TUCSON, Ariz. – The New Mexico State men’s basketball team dropped its second-consecutive game to a Top 25 team after losing to top-ranked Arizona, 74-48, in front of a packed crowd at the McKale Center on Wednesday, Dec. 11. NM State falls to 7-5 while the Wildcats remain undefeated at 10-0.
The Aggies played well and hung in there with the top team in the country during the first half and the beginning of the second half, but did not have enough to keep pace with the No. 1 Wildcats.
For one of the few times this season, NM State struggled in the paint with the Arizona big frontline. The Aggies were outrebounded 38-22 and the Wildcats doubled NM State’s point production in the paint, 36-18.
“Their athleticism and size on the wings really gave us a problem,” said head coach Marvin Menzies. “Arizona did a good job rebounding and our unforced turnovers is just disappointing. We had a lot of benchmarks that we didn’t meet but we are going to continue to work to where we need to get.”
The Aggies finished the game shooting 15-of-46 from the field (33 percent). Arizona, meanwhile, made over half of its shots, 29-of-56 to finish 52 percent from the field. NM State also struggled from beyond the arc, making only two of 11 shots for an 18 3-point percentage.
NM State was led by junior guard Daniel Mullings who finished with a game-high 18 points.
Mullings was the only Aggie to finish with double-digit points. Sophomore center Sim Bhullar led the way on the boards with seven total rebounds. Redshirt junior Tshilidzi Nephawe added eight points and five rebounds.
The Aggies jumped out to a 4-0 lead on a shot in the paint by Nephawe and a couple of free throws by Mullings. NM State attacked the paint early and a couple of inside baskets by senior forward Renaldo Dixon and Mullings gave the Aggies a 10-5 lead with under 15 minutes to play in the first half.
Arizona, however, proceeded to go on a 13-1 run to take an 18-11 lead with under nine minutes to play in the half.
NM State would answer. After a 3-pointer by junior guard K.C. Ross-Miller and a jumper by junior guard DK Eldridge, the Wildcat lead was down to two at 20-18 with 6:30 left. After an Arizona free throw, Ross-Miller hit another bucket to cut the Wildcat lead to 21-20.
Arizona went on another one of its vaunted runs, this time an 8-0 run, to take 29-20 with under three minutes left in the half.
The Aggies answered with a couple of quick buckets, first on a breakaway slam dunk by Mullings and then with a shot in the lane by Dixon after a Wildcat turnover to trim the lead to 29-24.
Arizona marked the final three points of the half on a slam dunk and a free throw by freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to give Arizona a 32-24 halftime lead.
NM State shot 40 percent from the field (10-25) during the first half, but only made 1-of-5 from three-point range for a 20 percent shooting percentage.
Mullings led the Aggies at the half with 10 points while Bhullar brought down three boards to lead NM State.
Mullings scored the first four points for the Aggies coming out of the locker room. His two free throws cut the Arizona lead to six at 34-28 early in the second half. Five-straight points by Wildcat T.J. McConnell, however, once again extended the lead to double digits with just over 17 minutes left in the game.
The McConnell buckets started what would turn out to be a 12-3 run by the Wildcats that gave them their biggest lead of the game at 46-31 with just under 15 minutes left in the contest. But NM State would not go away quietly into the desert night. An inside bucket by Bhullar and a driving basket by Mullings brought the Aggies to within 11 at 46-35 with 13:23 left in the matchup.
The Aggies hung tough during the middle portion of the half, holding the Arizona lead in the low teens. A couple of free throws by Ross-Miller would trim the Arizona lead to 58-45 with 8:12 left in the game.
The top-ranked Wildcats, however, showed why they are the No. 1 team in the country, ending the game on a 16-3 run during the final eight minutes of the game en route to a 42-24 advantage in the second half and a 74-48 win.
NM State will now continue its road swing with a trip to Des Moines, Iowa to face Drake University on Saturday, Dec. 14, beginning at 6 p.m. (MT).