The New Mexico State men’s basketball team defeated Western Athletic Conference leader Utah Valley in convincing fashion, 72-49, Saturday, Feb. 1 inside the Pan American Center. It was the 19th consecutive conference-home win for NM State dating back to 2012.
The Aggies now sit at 17-7 overall and are one game behind the Wolverines in the WAC standings with a 6-2 record. Utah Valley still leads the WAC at 7-1 and are 13-8 overall. The last Aggie home-conference loss came at the hands of Nevada on Jan. 26, 2012.
NM State only held a five-point lead at the half, but only allowed 21 points and eight field goals during the second half to handily give Utah Valley its first WAC loss of the season. The Aggie defense also forced 11 turnovers, which led to 17 points.
“Our defense was really good and I think the road got to them a little,” said head coach Marvin Menzies. “I was happy with the outcome, especially against a very good team. We made some adjustments in the second half and we were able to take advantage of our home court.”
The Aggies shot 56.8 percent from the field (25-of-44) while holding the Wolverines to 41.3 percent (19-of-46). NM State also had a big night at the free-throw line, sinking 19-of-23 free throws for an 82.6 free-throw percentage.
Junior guard Daniel Mullings once again led the Aggie charge with a game-high 21 points while also tying for the NM State lead in rebounds with eight in the game. Senior Renaldo Dixon also had eight boards and also added eight points.
Redshirt junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe finished with 15 points and seven rebounds while junior guard DK Eldridge also finished in double figures with 13 points.
The Aggies began the game by sinking four of their first six shots. After two Mullings’ free throws, each NM State starter had scored a couple of points as the Aggies led 10-3 four minutes into the game.
The Wolverines kept the game tight with a couple of 3-pointers. After a three by guard Holton Hunsaker, Utah Valley had cut the Aggie lead to 16-13 with 12:14 left in the half.
The Wolverines scored to more during their next possession to cut the NM State lead to one, but that would be as close as they would get as the Aggie defense would begin to clamp down as Utah Valley would go scoreless for almost five minutes.
The mid portion of the first half saw Mullings score nine-straight points for NM State and also saw the Aggies go on a 9-0 run. After NM State big man Sim Bhullar scored his first bucket of the night, the Aggies had extended their lead to double-digits at 25-15 with 6:29 left in the first half.
The Wolverines once again used the 3-point shot to stay within striking distance. After two-consecutive Utah Valley 3-pointers, the NM State lead was once again down to three, 29-26, with 2:36 till halftime.
A jump shot by Aggie guard K.C. Ross-Miller with 36 seconds left in the half concluded the half’s scoring as NM State held a slim 33-28 lead heading into the locker room.
The Aggies shot 54.5 percent (12-of-22) in the first half and were also aided by sinking 8-of-9 free throws in the half. NM State also dominated the paint, outscoring the Wolverines 12-2 inside the paint.
Mullings had 13 points in the half to lead the Aggies and was also tied with Dixon with a team-high five first-half rebounds.
The NM State defense continued to stifle Utah Valley at the beginning of the second half. After almost six minutes of play in the second half, the Wolverines had only marked two points. A Mullings’ bucket with under 14 minutes to play once extended the Aggie lead to double digits at 41-30.
NM State would continue to hold the double-digit lead and after a bucket by Nephawe the Aggies had their biggest lead of the game, 52-38, with 9:28 left.
The Aggies would not see their lead fall below double figures for the rest of the game, as the defense, along with good shooting, ensured there would be no Wolverine comeback.
An Eldridge 3-pointer with just under three minutes left in the contest gave NM State an insurmountable 64-47 lead and put the Aggies right in the thick of the WAC regular-season title.
NM State now hits the road to try and break a two-game losing streak in conference road games. The Aggies will first face Idaho on Thursday, Feb. 6, before heading to the Northwest region to meet Seattle U on Saturday, Feb. 8. Both games are scheduled for an 8 p.m. (MT) start.