As far as the Western Athletic Conference goes, Big Monday featuring New Mexico State and Seattle lived up to the billing.
New Mexico State’s trip to the Pacific Northwest on Monday night for what was dubbed for the second time this season, “The Battle for First Place”, had the attention of the college basketball world.
The revamped WAC, as most are calling it, has certainly taken a step up in competition in 2021-22. Attracting more eyes on the national stage and giving way to what looked like a full capacity Redhawks Center and sole possession of 1st place in the conference. The last time these two teams met was on February 5th in Las Cruces. The Aggies beat the Redhawks in the season’s first “Battle for First Place”, 79-64 at home. The Aggies got 33 points and 11 rebounds from star player Teddy Allen who took part in a true Pistol Pete shootout with Seattle guard Darrion Trammell with 26 points of his own.
The end of February is fast approaching and with three games left in the regular season before WAC schools meet in Las Vegas next month, tensions were high in a jam-packed Redhawk Center.
UGLY YET EXCITING
The beginning moments of Monday night’s first place showdown was less than stellar. Both programs struggled to find the bottom of the net with a combined 8 points in the first five minutes of play. However, fans were kept entertained with a dominant offensive performance from Seattle guard Darrion Trammell, as well as a Mario McKinney Jr. alley-op in the first half.
Monday night was a battle of two of the WAC’s most prolific scorers in Teddy Allen and Darrion Trammell. However, the first half turned into the Trammell show, as the 5-10 junior guard had game-high 19 points in the first half. Trammell single-handedly kept Seattle in the ball game in the first half. The rest of his teammates had just 9 points total.
New Mexico State’s first-half offensive performance was a little less one-man centric. Allen led all Aggies in scoring with 10 points. Unlike Trammell, Allen got help from his teammates. 21 total points came from his teammates and 12 from a very deep bench. As a whole, New Mexico State shot 41 percent in the first half..
Both squads struggled from beyond the ARC. The Aggies logging just 21.4% and the Redhawks shooting a similar 20.0% from deep, respectively. The depth and size advantage of the visiting team was reflected in the rebound totals of the half. New Mexico State out-rebounded the Redhawks, 27-17, while the hosts got to the free throw line 6 times (netting 5) and kept the visitors away from the charity strip entirely.
Both squads headed to the locker rooms with the Aggies up 31-28 at the half.
A BATTLE FROM TO START TO FINISH
For all the negatives you could point to on both sides of the court, you had to admit it was a battle throughout. Heavy defensive pressure on both sides made every shot look difficult. Teddy Allen opened scoring in the 2nd half with a runner from inside the key. And Allen took it upon himself to broaden the gap between the Aggies and their hosts. Allen had four straight points, which included a fadeaway jumper in isolation.
But as Seattle kept things close in the first half, with tough defensive spurts and ensuing offensive runs. However, the second half told a different story for the home team. Chris Jans’ squad outscored their opponents 37-27 in the final 20 minutes of play to secure the road win and sole possession of first place in the WAC.
The length and athleticism of New Mexico State always looked like a factor in Seattle’s shot selection. Most of Seattle’s attempts on the perimeter had to be truly earned and any attempts to drive the lane turned acrobatic.
Part of the problem also was a lack of help from Redhawks not named Darrion Trammell or Riley Grisgby. Trammell simmered down in the second half, shooting just 1-7 from the field and 1-3 from deep in a half where the Aggies just looked like the better team. Grisgby chipped in 10 points and 2 blocks but also struggled from the field (4-10 from the floor and 2-7 from deep). Also a non-factor was Redhawks sniper Cameron Tyson. The former Houston Cougar and Seattle native went 1-12 on the night and a forgettable 1-10 from deep.
A Jabari Rice open drive to the hoop put the Aggies up 64-55 in the closing minutes. That followed by a couple of wasted Seattle possessions leading to fouls and a pair of layups from Allen and Clayton Henry sealed the game. The Aggies have partly been the Redhawks kryptonite this season, now having swept Seattle. Monday night’s 68-55 point win inside the Redhawk Center was Seattle’s first true home loss of the season. Not to mention the lowest point total for this squad who has taken this revamped WAC by storm this season.
PLAYER HIGHLIGHT: William McNair Jr.
Teddy Allen may have been the offensive focus point for the Aggies most of the night.
However, it was more of a relative unknown that was the hero for New Mexico State. Redshirt sophomore big man William McNair Jr had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the win. And was just the boost needed in the New Mexico State box score to secure the win on the road. As Allen and Jabari Rice were doing flips for quality looks offensively, McNair often found himself in one-on-one isolation situations. With opponents either not strong enough or lacking the length needed to throw the 6-10 Philadelphia native off of his game.
It was a perfect set up, as Rice searching for an open Teddy Allen, Johnny McCants or hounded himself by a defensively tenacious Trammell often found McNair open in the paint. McNair also played a big defensive role down low with three blocks and two assists. Monday was McNair’s second double-double of the season.
The Aggies stay on the road and head to the midwest to take on Chicago State on Saturday. The Cougars will be exiting the WAC this summer making this the last conference showdown between the longtime conference mates. Then, the Aggies head back to Las Cruces for an end of season defense of the Pan American Center. The Aggies host Stephen F. Austin and Utah Valley to finish the regular season.
Seattle heads to the Beehive State for two road games at Utah Valley on Thursday and Dixie State on Saturday. The Redhawks still have a lot to play for down the stretch. Seattle U is one of the best teams in the conference. But, as we have seen, the Redhawks are certainly capable of a few bad games.
At this point of the season, teams are playing for seeding. Both the Aggies and the Redhawks are still in line to secure byes in Las Vegas.