(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Fresh off the stunning news revolving around how their prized freshman is no longer with the team, the Arizona State Sun Devils will hit the court Saturday night against the New Mexico State Aggies looking for their second straight win.
The news of highly-touted freshman Sam Cunliffe leaving the program came as a shock to everyone. The Seattle native was averaging 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game through 10 games with the Sun Devils and was ASU’s highest ranked recruit since James Harden. The Sun Devils will now have to find contributors to step up in his absence and deliver.
Arizona State is looking to piece together back-to-back victories for the first time since opening weekend, as the team has alternated wins and losses since then. The team is coming off a huge morale-boosting road victory at a historically good program in San Diego State, and is looking to keep building momentum heading into Pac-12 play.
The next challenge awaiting the Sun Devils is New Mexico State of the Western Athletic Conference. NMSU is no cupcake opponent, as they will come into tonight at 9-2 on a seven game winning streak, and have made the NCAA tournament in five of the past seven seasons. The Aggies are coming off of back-to-back rivalry wins over UTEP and in-state foe New Mexico. This will be their first and only game against a Power 5 opponent.
The Aggies are led by senior guard Ian Baker at 14.6 points per game, followed by guards Sidy Ndir and Braxton Huggins and forward Jemerrio Jones, who are also all averaging in double figures. NMSU’s top rebounder, forward Eli Chuha, stands at just 6-7, giving ASU a height advantage it has lacked more often than not in their brutal non-conference schedule.
The only two losses for New Mexico State have come on the road against Colorado State and in-state rival New Mexico (the teams played a home-and-home). The Aggies best wins have come against programs such as the Lobos, UTEP, and Long Beach State, so this will be their stiffest test of the season so far, and they will be seeking a resume-building win on the road.
ASU is 62-14 in the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena in the last five seasons, so home court should be able to assist the Devils. This is the start of a three game homestand going into ASU’s Pac-12 opener at Stanford, including games with Central Arkansas and current No. 10 Creighton on Tuesday.
Tonight’s game will tip off at 6 p.m. Arizona time and will be televised regionally on Pac-12 Arizona.