New Mexico State’s deep lineup takes aim at another WAC title

Chris Jans’ first thought after every buzzer this season wasn’t about the scoreboard. It was how his players felt.

That’s one aspect of how the New Mexico State coach has used unorthodox methods to lead his team to a second straight Western Athletic Conference regular season title. The Aggies have 14 players that average 11.2 minutes per game or more, and Jans admits managing that rotation has been a unique challenge this season.

There’s always one player who didn’t go back on the court for a third or fourth time, one player who wanted to be out there for five more minutes. But by and large his team has handled it well, which is why the program will be favored to win the WAC tournament when it begins Thursday at Orleans Arena.

“It wasn’t by design,” said Jans, who was named the WAC Coach of the Year on Tuesday. “(I’ve never done this) as consistently as we’re doing. When you do that, a lot of guys aren’t playing as many minutes as they’d like. Our biggest competition is division from within.”

The Aggies (27-4, 15-1 WAC) have a chance to earn their seventh WAC tournament title in eight years because their bench is a source of pride and unselfishness. The team returned only one starter from last season, so its rotation was wide open heading into the fall.

That led to a lot of experimenting early.

“It’s kind of fun,” junior guard AJ Harris said. “It really is fun to watch your other teammates go in and get the job done. It’s a good experience just to see a group of 13, 14 guys that can come in and just help the team out.”

Harris isn’t exaggerating. Thirteen players have started a game this season for the Aggies. Nine average five points or more and six average at least three rebounds.

Their leading scoring, junior guard Terrell Brown, averages 11 points and 24 minutes. He ranks 18th in points per game in the WAC.

“I don’t care about having the most playing time or the most points, as long as we’re winning,” Brown said. “We all got each other’s back, so what’s the point of fighting for our own (stats)?”

And the Aggies have won plenty this season. Brown said a 63-60 December loss to then-No. 2 Kansas in a Kansas City tournament gave the team confidence, and by the conference season the group was rolling.

The Aggies have won 16 straight games and are hoping to use their deeper lineup to their advantage during tournament time, when important games happen within days of each other.

“If we play that many people, the scouting report will be hard,” Brown said. “I feel like we’re going to be stronger because we have a deeper bench.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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