LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Sophomore center Sim Bhullar posted his fourth straight double-double as the No. 2 seeded New Mexico State men’s basketball team defeated the No. 7 seeded Seattle U Redhawks 70-68 in the Orleans Arena, Thursday, March 13.
Bhullar scored a team-high and season-high 24 points while pulling down a game-high 14 boards while adding five blocks and three assists. Junior guard DK Eldridge added 19 points going 3-for-3 from behind the 3-point arc, 4-of-4 from the charity stripe and 6-of-9 from the field (67 percent). The Aggies as a team hit and astounding 25-of-29 free throw shots (86.2 percent) with junior guard Daniel Mullings hitting 6-of-6 and senior forward Renaldo Dixon draining 4-of-4 free throw shots. The team hit 14-of-15 free throws in the first half.
“I am happy that we are still playing and I thought Seattle played really well and they gave it their all. You have to give credit to their team because they did a fantastic job and they were really prepared for us,” head coach Marvin Menzies said. “Our guys showed heart in the second half and hitting free throws could be the difference of the game.”
The Aggies scored 96 and 92 points in previous two games against Seattle U, but 16 NM State turnovers caused the Aggies to score on 70 points in the quarterfinal game of the tournament. The Aggies out-rebounded Seattle U 38-34 and blocked eight Redhawk shots.
NM State took an early 10-8 lead when DK Eldridge hit a 3-pointer with 16:51 in the half. After NM State went up 12-10, Seattle U found some momentum and went on a 10-4 run to take a 22-14 lead. The Aggies settled down and went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 22 all. The Aggies trailed by six with 1:06 left in the half but scored four straight points, which included a great dish-and-dunk from Dixon to Bhullar to make it 33-31 game heading into the locker room.
Seattle U played tough defense in the first half holding Mullings held. It was only the second time all season that he was held scoreless in a half as UTPA held him scoreless in the second half of a 90-78 win in Las Cruces. The Aggies shot 40 percent from the field in the half and held the Redhawks to 38 percent from the field but were out-rebounded 33-31. Bhullar led the Aggies with 11 points and four boards, while adding two blocks in the first half.
The Aggies fell behind by as many as six at 45-39 early in the second half but went on an 11-4 run over 8:43 to take a 46-45 lead. NM State held the momentum and continued its run to go up 50-45 with 6:30 remaining. A 3-point play from the Redhawks closed squeezed the Aggie lead to four at 56-52, but two free throws by Mullings and a three-pointer by Eldridge gave NM State its biggest lead of the game at 61-52 with just over three minutes left in the second half.
The Redhawks hung around and pulled to within three at 67-64 in favor of the Aggies with under a minute to play. Bhullar made a free throw before Seattle’s Isiah Umipig hit a three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining to cut the Aggie lead to one at 68-67.
Eldridge made two free throws, and then NM State fouled Seattle guard D’Vonne to prevent a 3-point shot attempt. Pickett made the first and intentionally missed the second, with the rebound falling into the Redhawks’ hands, but his put-back attempt went off the glass and off the rim, and Bhullar grabbed the rebound as time ran out.
The Aggies face No. 6 seed Bakersfield, Friday, March 14 at 9:30p.m. (MT) with radio coverage available in Las Cruces on KGRT 103.9 FM with ‘Voice of the Aggies’ Jack Nixon giving the play-by-play. A webcast will be available at www.WAC.tv. In-game score updates are also available on Twitter @NMStateAggies.