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WAC Wednesday: Ty Rowell, California Baptist impress, Johnny McCants saves the streak and more

Plus a South Texas Showdown to get excited about.

NCAA Basketball: California Baptist at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It is, retuuuuuuuurn of the WAC...Wednesday.

While the WAC Wednesday headquarters now reside in Summit League territory, there’s no reason the we still can’t splash some digital ink on the country’s most geographically diverse conference. And when we’re on the subjects of comebacks, why not start with Ty Rowell.

The California Baptist redshirt junior tore an ACL eight games into last season, and had not seen game action for nearly a full calendar year when the Lancers tipped against USC on opening night. There was no rust in sight, as Rowell poured in a career-high 32 points (9-15 3FG) and nearly helped CBU pull off an upset that had casual fans taking notice on Thanksgiving Eve.

The biggest three Rowell hit seemed achingly close to sealing the upset before lottery-bound freshman Evan Mobley and the Trojans fought back to force overtime.

All the more impressive? Rowell’s three-point barrage came against a long, athletic USC defense that would go on to throttle BYU’s vaunted outside attack, holding the Cougars to just 23 percent shooting (7-30 3FG) on Dec. 1.

On the whole, CBU’s solid opening performance wasn’t the product of a veteran team with plenty of returning minutes out-foxing a power conference team working in a star freshman and finding its footing in a strange, disrupted offseason. Instead, the Lancers were very much finding themselves, having lost 83.6% of their minutes from a year ago, and needing to replace an offensive focal point in Milan Acquaah.

Rowell stepped right into that role, and looked at home as a primary scoring option, particularly as nearly half of his threes were unassisted. In the smallest of sample sizes, he looks to be at the spear of an offense that should yet again give teams trouble throughout the year.

Sophomore guard Tre Armstrong, who had 11 points and nine assists against the Trojans, talked with Mid-Major Madness about the team’s potential in a recent interview.

“Whilst having a really new group and a lot of people will say we won’t do very well, I’ve been around this group for a few months now and I know what we’re capable of,” he said. “Offensively we can be really potent, we have a lot of really good shooters. From a team standpoint, I think the sky is the limit and we’re ready to show people what we can do.”

Based on Rowell’s explosion and the team’s season debut in Los Angeles, it doesn’t seem like Armstrong was wrong.

Johnny McCants wraps it up

New Mexico State probably didn’t expect itself having to dig its heels in late in its opener against Arizona Christian. But that was where the Aggies found themselves in a rare, “only in 2020” road game at an NAIA opponent that made 13 threes and comported itself well against the WAC favorite.

In the end, Johnny McCants slammed the door shut on the upset bid.

The Firestorm seemed to spend a millennia at the free throw line down the stretch on Sunday as the game seesawed back and forth before hitting what seemed like a momentum-turning three to take a 77-76 lead with a minute left. On the next possession, McCants took a pass on the baseline and pivoted into a dunk that would ultimately be the game winner — in part because he erased ACU’s next possession with a block.

It was an emphatic stretch that could set up a special season for a player that has already carved a unique place in NMSU history, and not just for his half court winner against Grand Canyon in 2019. The Las Cruces native has played alongside frontcourt/perimeter standouts like Jemerrio Jones and Trevelin Queen over his career, and looks to be doing the same this year with UNLV transfer Donnie Tillman off to a flying start (16.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG).

Nonetheless, the senior has been a valuable-if-unheralded player for the NMSU machine, and will be a big part of the Aggies sustaining that dominance this year. He followed up putting an extinguisher on the Firestorm with his third career double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) in NMSU’s palate-cleansing, 38-point win over Benedictine Mesa on Tuesday night.

That win, the Aggies 21st straight, tied a program record which was only intact — in large part — because of McCants.

(Cross Our Fingers) Game of the Week

Texas A&M Corpus Christi at UT Rio Grande Valley | Wednesday, Dec. 2 | 8PM ET

The first iteration of 2020’s South Texas Showdown gets the nod, as Lew Hill’s Vaqueros look for sweet revenge against the Islanders. TAMUCC swept UTRGV last year, which followed a 2018-19 season that saw the Vaqueros as the ones doing the sweeping in the rivalry.

This matchup looks ripe for UTRGV to get above .500. The Islanders were picked ninth in the Southland preseason poll and are coming off a lopsided loss in a difficult game at SMU. On the flip side, the Vaqueros are coming off a win over UTSA, which was quietly one of the more impressive non-conference victories in Hill’s five-year tenure. UTRGV was deft from three against the Roadrunners (10-23 3FG), which is particularly notable as this has been an area in which they’ve generally struggled in recent years.

Then there’s the matter of Sean Rhea, which brings plenty of its own intrigue. The redshirt junior starred against UTSA, scoring 20 points and pulling down six rebounds. But flash back two years and Rhea was a key piece of the Islanders rotation, and now gets his first crack at his old team. He talked about it with The Monitor after the UTSA win.

“Texas A&M-Corpus Christi — that’s my old school. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Rhea said after the Vaqueros’ 81-64 win over UTSA in their home opener. “I’ve waited three years to get at them and it’s a plus that it’s at Bert Ogden. … I’m so excited for that Corpus game. As soon as I stepped off the floor, that’s the end of this game. It was a good team win and it is what it, but we’re on to the next one, and I’m happy the next one is Corpus.”

Honorable mention goes to North Dakota’s Wednesday night visit to Dixie State, which — if all goes as planned — would be the Trailblazers Division I debut.