Albuquerque, N.M. • If Utah State had pulled off the improbable, it would’ve been a big night for one of the team’s biggest stars.
As it was, Preston Medlin’s performance against the Lobos in the 67-58 defeat will stand as a great stat line in another loss. And though the Aggies’ most tenured senior was hurt to fall short of a top-25 upset, he took what positives he could.
"Anytime you go against the Mountain West’s best team and go to their house and play good, it always feels good," he said. "Even though we didn’t get the win tonight, I thought we played good as a team. It was good for us to get this game."
It was good for Medlin to cobble together a good performance as well. The guard broke from one of his coldest patches of the year, a string of three games in which he hadn’t scored more than six points and shot a combined 20 percent. Medlin scored more Tuesday than he did in that entire stretch, pouring in 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting — more field goals than he scored in his last three games combined as well.
Perhaps most importantly, Medlin looked the part of the leader. He answered New Mexico’s baskets with shots of his own, starting out the second half 3-for-3. After a layup and drawing a foul, Medlin shouted and pumped his fist, the emotional core of a team in need of consistency.
"He’s had a few tough games in a row," coach Stew Morrill said. "It’s nice to see him make some shots. He looked like himself."
Neal steps up again
Utah State said it was ready for Cullen Neal, even coming off the bench. After the freshman’s latest performance, the Aggies will be circling his name in the game plan wearily for the next few years.
In his first game against Utah State, Neal, the son of New Mexico coach Craig Neal, scored 13 points. In his second game, he scored nine of his 12 points in the second half. It was widely considered the spark that turned the game — both coaches said so.
For the year, Neal has averaged 12.5 points and has shot 57.1 percent against the Aggies. For the year, he’s averaging 7.6 points and shooting 38.2 percent.
"We needed somebody to come in and score some baskets and make some plays and make something happen, and he did that," a beaming father said. "And I know how to push his buttons, and he’s a terrific kid that played very hard tonight."
Free throws clang
For both teams, there wasn’t much charity at the free-throw line.
For the season, Utah State has shot 73.7 percent on its free throws, but the Aggies were only 6-for-12 on Tuesday night. New Mexico got a lot of looks, but made only 11 of its 21.
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