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Jans Era Begins with Blowout Win Over East Central

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NMSU%27s+Zach+Lofton+scored+24+points%2C+connecting+for+seven+made+three%27s.+A+new+career+high+in+three+point+field+goals+made+for+the+graduate+guard.++
NMSU's Zach Lofton scored 24 points, connecting for seven made three's. A new career high in three point field goals made for the graduate guard.

NMSU's Zach Lofton scored 24 points, connecting for seven made three's. A new career high in three point field goals made for the graduate guard.

NMSU's Zach Lofton scored 24 points, connecting for seven made three's. A new career high in three point field goals made for the graduate guard.

The Chris Jans era has officially begun at New Mexico State. The former Wichita State assistant and Bowling Green head coach has picked up right where the Aggies’ last coach regime left off, beginning the season with a 81-55 win over the East Central (Okla.) Tigers Friday night at the Pan American Center. 

The former Wichita State assistant and Bowling Green head coach has picked up right where the Aggies’ last coach regime left off.

It wasn’t pretty for a half, but the Aggies used a defensive effort more appropriate for a defensive-minded Jans-coached team to pull away from an inferior opponent.

“I got to wondering as the game unfolded in the first half if we were ever going to make a jump-shot or even a lay-up,” Jans said jokingly post-game. “That basket seemed to have a lid on it… (but) the best part of the first half was that even though we did not shoot the ball well, we were still ahead. I thought that was a great sign.”

It did not take long for Aggie fans to get acquainted with New Mexico State guard Zach Lofton. The Texas Southern transfer and 2016-17 Southwestern Athletic Conference Player of the Year poured in game-high 25 points (14 of NMSU’s 31 first-half points) in his NMSU debut in a game where the Aggies shot a dismal 32.5 percent from the field in the first half and only led by six at intermission. 

Lofton averaged 16.8 points per game a year ago for Texas Southern. 

“That’s kind of why we brought him (Lofton) here,” Jans said. “We felt like he could give us a shot in the arm offensively, but the thing where I think people make a mistake about Zach is that they pitch it all on him as a scorer. He is a basketball player. He had what, six rebounds and a couple assists and three steals? He knows how to play and he’s comfortable on the floor.”

NMSU (1-0) was able to share the ball and get good looks against the Tigers, but an old-fashioned off night from the field would allow East Central to stick around for a half. The Aggies shot 1-for-16 from the 3-point line, with Aussie newcomer Gabe Hadley shooting 0-for-4 from distance. Ohio State transfer AJ Harris, who had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, scored 12 points on the night, but his message to his teammates at the half was what helped the Aggies get going offensively.

“I just told my guys that in the second half, they’ll (shots) start falling,” Harris said. “We just had to keep shooting the ball and keep being confident.”

Jans put an emphasis on the defensive side of the court after NMSU allowed 83 points to Southeastern (Okla.) and 84 to Texas Tech in exhibition games. The Tigers struggled to score against NMSU’s length, shooting 34.5 percent in the game. Jamey Woods led East Central with 14 points (5-for-13 from the field) on the night. 

Forward Jemerrio Jones had a career night with 19 points and 19 rebounds, which is a new career high. The 6’5 senior said last year that he was a forward in a guard’s body, and he continues to put up numbers on the glass.

NMSU will now shift their attention to No.22 Saint Mary’s, who the Aggies nearly beat in the 2016 NIT first round. The Gaels are led by long-time coach Randy Bennett and feature former UNM Lobo Cullen Neal, the son of former UNM head men’s basketball coach Craig Neal.

After Monday, the Aggies will shift their attention toward the New Mexico Lobos, who will be welcomed into Las Cruces to what should be a very hostile crowd next Friday night at 7 p.m. 

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Jans Era Begins with Blowout Win Over East Central