LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The New Mexico State men’s basketball team defeated its I-10 rival, Texas-El Paso, Saturday, Nov. 15 in front of 10,019 fans inside the Pan American Center. The 86-73 victory now gives the Aggies a 105-100 advantage in the 205 meetings between the two rivals. NM State moves to 3-1 on the season while the Miners fall to 1-1.
NM State shot over 50 percent in the contest, sinking 25 of 44 shots to finish with a 56.8 shooting percentage while holding UTEP to 46 percent on the night. The Aggie advantage in the paint was also noticeable as NM State out-rebounded the Miners, 37-23.
The Aggies were led by junior guard Daniel Mullings who finished with a game-high 26 points. Mullings went 9-of-14 from the field and sank eight of his 13 free-throw attempts. Sophomore center Sim Bhullar also finished with double-digit points, netting 11 points while also adding six rebounds.
“We made plays when we needed to and responded when the Miners started to make a push,” said head coach Marvin Menzies. “We did a good job executing plays and it was a great team-win overall.”
Junior center Chili Nephawe, senior forward Renaldo Dixon and junior guards DK Eldridge and KC Ross-Miller each added nine points to the Aggie total. Nephawe also led NM State in rebounds with a total of 12, six from each side, missing a double-double by one point. It was the third time this season he led the team in rebounds.
The two rivals traded buckets to start the contest as the game saw a 10-10 tie early on. A 9-0 run capped off by two Mullings' layups, however, gave the Aggies a 19-10 lead midway through the half.
The Miners fought right back with a 9-0 run of their own to once again tie the game, this time at 19. But in a half of runs, NM State scored the next six points including a 3-pointer by senior Kevin Aronis and a foul shot by Bhullar on an intentional foul.
Mullings hit three-consecutive buckets towards the end of the first half to help the Aggies maintain their lead. A 3-pointer by Miner guard C.J. Cooper with 36 seconds left in the half helped UTEP cut into NM State’s lead, but the Aggies still held a four-point lead, 37-33, at the half.
NM State finished the half by going 12-of-26 for a 46.2 percent shooting percentage while holding the Miners to 33.3 percent shooting. The Aggies did commit seven turnovers in the first half which kept UTEP close. Both teams finished the half by going 2-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Mulling led the way for NM State in the first half, finishing with 11 points while Nephawe added seven points and led the Aggies with six total rebounds including five on the offensive side.
The Miners quickly tied up the score at the start of the second half by scoring the first four points of the half. At that point, the Aggie bigs started asserting themselves in the paint.
Bhullar gave NM State the lead with a short hook in the lane. After Mullings scored two in the lane, Nephawe had a monstrous dunk during the Aggies’ next possession. Bhullar then followed with four-consecutive points in the lane to give NM State an eight-point lead at 47-39.
Once again UTEP fought back, scoring six points in a row to cut the Aggie lead to 47-45. A Bhullar dunk, however, gave NM State a 52-46 lead with just over 12 minutes to go in the contest.
Nephawe and Bhullar were not the only Aggie bigs to make an impact. Dixon also joined the NM State party in the paint. Dixon sank two free throws after a Miner intentional foul as he was driving the lane. After the Aggies received possession, Dixon added two more points on another drive to the hoop to give NM State a 56-47 lead halfway through the second half.
The Aggies kept pounding the lane with tough inside play by Nephawe, Bhullar and Dixon and strong drives by Mullings and Ross-Miller. NM State maintained its lead throughout the middle portion of the half.
With the Aggies up by nine at 67-58, Ross-Miller proceeded to mark the next seven points for NM State, including a 3-point shot and a three-point play the old fashion way, to give the Aggies their biggest lead at 74-60 with just under five minutes to play.
NM State put the game away with good free-throw shooting down the stretch to maintain the lead and held off the Miners, 86-73.
“I am happy with the result for the players and the fans,” Menzies said. “I want to thank all the fans, especially those in attendance because they really make a difference.”
The Aggies will now host Northern Colorado on Wednesday, Nov. 20, inside the Pan American Center before heading south to El Paso for the rematch against UTEP on Saturday, Nov. 23. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. start.