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New Mexico State fills massive hole, signs graduate transfer guard Zach Lofton

It was Chris Jans’ first major recruiting win.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-North Carolina vs Texas Southern Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Jans’ finally got a backcourt boost.

New Mexico State’s first year coach stepped into the job already needing to replace the reigning WAC Player of the Year in point guard Ian Baker. He then got a gut punch when breakout junior wing Braxton Huggins (13.7 PPG, 42.0 3P%) transferred to Fresno State.

And that wasn’t all.

Three other guards — Jermaine Haley, Matt Taylor and Jalyn Pennie — also left the program with eligibility left. Taylor and Pennie started at various times in their respective careers in Las Cruces, but Haley may have been the biggest loss, as the redshirt freshman oozed potential.

But the script flipped Monday as Texas Southern graduate transfer guard Zach Lofton committed to New Mexico State. He fills a massive need in terms of both scoring and experience.

In his lone year in Houston, Lofton averaged 16.8 points per game and won the SWAC Player of the Year award. This included a 35-point debut against UT Arlington in November, and a 19-point effort against Arizona later that month.

Lofton does most of his damage around the basket, and was one of the best in the SWAC at getting to the free throw line. If you are nit-picking, that is a bit redundant with Sidy N’Dir, who will presumably start with Lofton on the perimeter.

But N’Dir — who was leading NMSU in scoring before suffering a season-ending foot injury in December — Lofton and Ohio State transfer A.J. Harris should make up the most talented backcourt trio in the WAC. Jans will likely gladly take the talent, and figure out the three-point shooting issue later.

Lofton took the scenic route to Las Cruces.

He initially played at Illinois State, and put up a solid freshman season in 2013-14 (23.0 MPG, 11.3 PPG). He then transferred to Minnesota, but was dismissed from the program without playing a game. NMSU will thus be his fourth, and final, stop.

The high majors came calling again, as he was reportedly considering South Carolina, North Carolina State and Ole Miss, as well as Gonzaga. That he committed to the Aggies is the first recruiting win for Jans as he tries to replace a (at least one time) popular coach in Paul Weir.