Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Aggies need to improve in ‘controllables’ such as toughness, rebounding

LAS CRUCES – When Greg Heiar played basketball at Kirkwood Community College and later Mount St. Claire, he didn’t mind doing the dirty work that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

Now in his first year as a head coach at New Mexico State, Heiar is working to ensure a struggling Aggies team will adopt those qualities if they want to climb out of their current 0-2 start in Western Athletic Conference play.

Aggies drop back-to-back WAC home games, fall to Sam Houston State

“When I played, I would dive on the floor, I would take a charge, I would set a screen, I would go check somebody out,” said Heiar, whose team is 7-7 and plays at Stephen F. Austin at 6 :30 pm, on Wednesday. “That’s what (Fred VanVleet) would do, that’s what Skylar Mays and a lot of guys I have coached in the past, they would do the controllables. Those are things you don’t need talent to do.

“They are clear as day on video and we will continue to show them, continue to work on it until they understand how to play together and have that urgency that it takes to win in this conference.”

Toughness, defense and rebounding were common themes following New Mexico State’s loss to league-leading Sam Houston State on Saturday – the Aggies second straight loss at the Pan American Center.

“I’m going to have to come up with some different lineups and play some different guys and find those glue guys who are going to do the dirty work,” Heiar said.

Heiar said the Aggies entered the season with hopes that Arizona transfer Kim Aiken would provide leadership and fill some of the roles the Aggies are currently lacking. Heiar said it was still unclear on whether or not Aiken would be available.

“The plan for the glue guy isn’t out there right now,” Heiar said. “(Aiken) is the ultimate glue guy, but we won’t know and we may not have him. He has such good leadership qualities. He’s the most physical guy, the smartest guy and he’s very direct with the rest of the team and the team listens to him.”

Heiar said the Aggies’ effort in practice has not carried over to the games, but when the lights come on, the team’s offensive performance dictates how the Aggies defend and rebound on the other end of the court.

NMSU head basketball coach Greg Heiar reacts at a game against NMSU on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.

“We need to learn how to get stops and stop giving guys second chance opportunities,” Aggies guard Xavier Pinson said. “Offensively the ball sticks too much and there is too much one-on-one. As long as we move and cut and get the ball hopping, we look way better.

“As long as you get good shots at the rim, you can allow yourself to get set up on defense and allow yourself an opportunity to get stops. We do a bad job getting up good shots so it’s like we are always in transition.”

As the season has progressed, Pinson or guard Deshawndre Washington have found themselves with the ball with the shot clock winding down. Pinson has the highest percentage of possession (26.5), which assigns credit or blame to an individual player’s action, ends a possession either when his missed shot isn’t rebounded by the offense or commits a turnover, and has the highest percentage of shots taken (24.9) on the team. Washington is second in both categories.

“If (Washington) gets the rebound, we want him to push the ball and make good decisions,” Heiar said. “I would like to see him get to the paint. Coaches are doing a good job making him counter. They wall him up and he’s not getting as deep into the paint. With his size, when he gets deep into the paint, he sees the defense and sees open guys and that’s when we are at our best.”

While Pinson and Washington are No. 1 and no. 1A on the opposing team’s scouting report, the Aggies remain a work in progress in the early stages of conference play.

“For the most part, everyone knows what is asked of them,” Pinson said. “I think we do have a little bit more of knowing our roles and knowing not just what (Heiar) wants from us, but everyone wants and just put it all together.”

Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

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