GAME NOTES: The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs learned about the harsh reality in college athletics on Monday when they were booted from the Associated Press Top-25, even though they carry the nation's longest winning streak into their meeting against New Mexico State on Thursday night at the Pan American Center.
Last week, the Bulldogs moved to 25th in the nation, their first inclusion in the Top-25 in almost three decades, but even after outscoring a pair of Western Athletic Conference opponents by a combined 50 points they still failed to earn enough points in the voting to remain in the rankings. With the 88-61 blowout of San Jose State last Saturday night, LaTech remained undefeated in conference play (16-0) and had its overall win streak extended to 18 in a row.
As for the Aggies, they like everyone else in the WAC are chasing LaTech in the standings, but the Bulldogs are too far ahead to be challenged, particularly by NMSU which is currently third with a record of 12-4. The team has bowed in two of the last three outings, the most recent coming against Denver at Magness Arena last Saturday, 66-60.
The Aggies own a commanding 15-4 advantage in the all-time series against Louisiana Tech, but obviously the Bulldogs won the first meeting of the campaign back on New Year's Eve in Ruston by a score of 81-72.
A weak San Jose State squad was ripe for the picking last Saturday, as the Bulldogs took a huge bite out of the Spartans in a 27-point home win. Raheem Appleby led four players in double figures with his 16 points, although he shot just 4-of-14 from the floor, followed by reserves Alex Hamilton and Jaron Johnson with 13 points apiece and Brandon Gibson 12 points before he picked up his fifth personal foul.
Appleby, the leading scorer in three of the last four outings for the Bulldogs, is actually the only one scoring in double figures on the season overall with his 14.8 ppg, shooting just 39.9 percent from the floor. As a group, LaTech is generating a healthy 74.7 ppg as many players have a hand in the offensive efforts these days. More importantly, the defense is limiting foes to just 39.0 percent shooting from the floor and 28.1 percent beyond the arc, resulting in just 61.8 ppg.
In a game that featured seven ties and as many lead changes, the Aggies came out on the short end of the six-point decision with Denver last Saturday afternoon. Bandja Sy had a huge game for the visitors with 21 points and 11 rebounds, hitting all three of his 3-point tries, while Sim Bhullar and Tyrone Watson accounted for 17 and 10 points, respectively, as the latter finally made his return to the lineup.
Despite missing six conference games, Watson is still one of four NMSU players scoring in double figures in those league outings, dropping in 10.9 ppg as he also brings back some punch in the paint where he is good for four rebounds per contest. Sy (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) leads the way on the interior for the Aggies at the moment, but helping to fill in some of the gaps is Bhullar (11.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg) who is responsible for 45 blocked shots and is shooting 59.5 percent from the floor, albeit just 49.4 percent at the charity stripe in 16 starts.
Getting bounced from the national rankings probably didn't go over too well with the Bulldogs so hopefully they can channel their disappointment into another strong effort, otherwise NMSU might catch them napping.
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