LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Starting his second-consecutive game in place of injured center Sim Bhullar, senior forward Renaldo Dixon marked a career-high 18 points to pace the New Mexico State basketball team to a 96-87 victory over Seattle University Thursday night inside the Pan American Center.
The Aggies improve to 13-5 overall and start Western Athletic Conference play with two-consecutive wins. Seattle falls to 8-7 on the season and 0-2 in the WAC.
NM State shot over 50 percent (52.9) from the field while holding the Redhawks to 48.4 percent. The Aggies also had a good night from 3-point range, sinking 7-of-17 threes for a 41.2 3-point shooting percentage. Senior guard Kevin Aronis led the 3-point charge by sinking half of his shots from beyond the arc (3-of-6).
Bhullar missed his second-straight game with a foot injury. His absence was felt as NM State was outrebounded 35-33 and outscored in the paint 30-28. The Aggies made up for the paint production, however, by causing 16 Seattle turnovers.
Dixon went 4-of-7 from the field and sank 10-of-12 free throws for his 18 points. Junior guard DK Eldridge joined Dixon with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting to lead NM State. Eldridge also had nine rebounds, falling one rebound short of marking his third-consecutive double-double.
Aronis added another 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half. NM State’s leading scorer, junior guard Daniel Mullings, finished with 13 points and a team-leading 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. Junior guard K.C. Ross-Miller also finished in double figures with 12 points.
Ross-Miller, however, did have his consecutive free throw streak snapped at 33 after missing his first foul shot of the game in the second half. Ross-Miller was three foul shots away from tying the Aggie record for consecutive free throws made.
Dixon kicked off the scoring with a couple of free throws. A 3-pointer and bucket in the lane by Ross-Miller gave the Aggies an early 10-4 margin with 15:40 remaining in the first half.
The Redhawks got to within three points of NM State at 18-15 with 10:51 left in the half, but a 9-0 run by the Aggies off of three-consecutive 3-point plays broke the game wide open. Aronis began the run with a shot from beyond the arc. The 3-pointer was followed by two old-fashioned 3-point plays, first from redshirt junior Tshilidzi Nephawe and then from Eldridge. Eldridge’s 3-point play opened up the Aggie lead to double digits at 27-15 midway through the half.
NM State never looked back and after a couple of consecutive threes from Aronis, the Aggies had doubled up Seattle, 42-21, with just over four minutes left in the half. Dixon marked the final four points of the half for NM State as the Aggies outscored the Redhawks, 18-11, during the final eight minutes of the half to take a commanding 20-point lead, 48-28, after half number one.
The Aggies made over half of their shots in the first half (16-of-31) to finish with a 51.6 shooting percentage. NM State also sank 5-of-11 3-pointers for a 45.5 percentage. NM State was also tough on defense, causing 10 Seattle turnovers while only committing two of its own.
Aronis led the first-half charge for the Aggies with his 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Mullings chipped in another nine points while Dixon and Eldridge added eight apiece. Eldridge also led NM State with seven rebounds.
The Redhawks marked the first-four points of the second half to try and make a run to get back into the game, but a slam dunk by Eldridge off an alley-hoop pass from Mullings once again stretched the lead to 20, 55-35, with 17:25 left in the game.
Seattle tried to stay in the game during the middle portion of the second half, cutting the Aggie lead to 15 on four different occasions, the final time at 70-55 with 7:42 remaining in the matchup. NM State, however, always had an answer. A three by sophomore forward Matej Buovac and a slam dunk by Nephawe once again increased the lead to 20 with 6:41 remaining.
The Redhawks made one final valiant attempt to make a run, cutting the Aggie lead to 11 on a few occasions throughout the final three minutes of the game. With under a minute left in the game, and on a 21-10 run, Seattle finally dropped the NM State lead into single digits, 87-78.
The Aggies sealed the game, however, after Dixon scored his final three points on a slam dunk and foul and NM State sank six-consecutive free throws in the final 20 seconds, four by freshman guard Travon Landry and the final two by Mullings, to close the Redhawks and the game, 96-87.
The Aggies continue their WAC home stand with a matchup against Idaho on Saturday, Jan. 11, inside the Pan American Center. The game is set for a special start time of 6 p.m. (MT) and will air on TV (ROOT Sports) and on the radio on KGRT 103.9 FM.