MEN’S BASKETBALL: Hilltoppers lose first-ever to Aggies

Danny Schoenbaechler

Men’s basketball coach Dennis Felton’s team appeared to be finding light at the end of a tunnel in this setback-marred season. Then he took his team to Las Cruces for what has historically been an easy victory.

That wasn’t the case Saturday.

Instead, the Hilltoppers’ road woes continued with a 92-82 loss to New Mexico State — its first ever.

The loss drops the Hilltoppers to 2-6 on the road this season.

The Toppers (11-7 overall, 4-2 Sun Belt) were unable to emerge victorious from this offensive shoot-out, despite being paced by point guard Patrick Sparks’ career-high 27 points.

Sparks, a week removed from being honored as Sun Belt Player of the Week, also contributed seven assists.

“These points weren’t the kind you really like,” Felton said. “A big part of it was that he had to (shoot), because we weren’t playing well as a team. But there is no doubt about it that he shot the ball spectacularly well, and that is a reason why we still had a chance to win the game. But you also don’t ever want to have a guy have to carry you.”

Sparks logged 38 minutes, just one more than his back court mate Mike Wells. Wells had 17 points and five assists, and senior guard Filip Videnov scored 12 points and two assists. The trio of starting guards combined for 56 points and 14 assists.

“I had no problem with the tempo of the game,” Felton said. “It was a fun game from a scoring point of view.”

Sparks said he likes the faster-paced style of play.

“I like to play up-tempo,” he said. “(Felton) likes for us to get up and down the floor scoring. He likes for us to be getting easy baskets, like they were getting.”

In contrast, the Hilltopper big men struggled with controlling the Aggies in the paint. James Moore scored 19 points, to go along with 11 rebounds and five blocks. Kelsey Crooks and Chris Jackson each chipped in double-doubles as well.

The Aggie front court trio combined for 49 points and 32 rebounds.

“We didn’t defend or rebound like we need to in order to win games,” Felton said. “Our goal is always to be the dominant rebounding (team), and obviously we didn’t do that.”

Senior forward David Boyden said the Toppers were outmatched on the boards.

“It’s been our focus since day one when Coach got here, but we didn’t take care of that,” Boyden said. “Their post out aggressed our post. Our guards did well like they always do, but we need to be more aggressive in the post.”

Despite the loss, Felton is pleased with the position his team is in.

“Overall, I’m awfully pleased with the way this team is doing this year. We’re still in a position to win the regular season championship,” Felton said. “I think this team has battled valiantly this year. We’re working our tails off to meet the challenge every day. It definitely excites me, and I think it excites all of us, because we’re excited about the prospects.”

Senior center Chris Marcus visited a doctor in California last week and is continuing to seek the opinions of other specialists. He is out indefinitely.

The next outing for the Toppers will be Thursday, as they take on Florida International. Western will be defending the nation’s second longest home-winning streak at 29 games.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]