LAS CRUCES, N.M. – For the second time this season the New Mexico State men’s basketball team has won seven-consecutive games after handling Idaho, 78-54, on Saturday night inside the Pan American Center.
The Aggies remain perfect in Western Athletic Conference play (3-0) while improving to 14-5 overall. The Vandals fall to 7-11 and 1-3 in the WAC.
With Center Sim Bhullar missing his third-straight game with a foot injury, redshirt junior Tshilidzi Nephawe took control of the paint area. The Aggie big man finished with 11 points and led NM State with 11 rebounds and a career-high six blocked shots. Nephawe marked his fourth double-double of the season to tie him with Bhullar for the team lead.
Joining Nephawe in double-figure scoring were junior guards Daniel Mullings and K.C. Ross-Miller, each with a game-high 16 points, and DK Eldridge who was right behind with 15. Senior forward Renaldo Dixon also contributed with nine points and six boards.
NM State led throughout and was never really threatened. The Aggies finished shooting 42.2 percent from the field (27-of-64) while holding Idaho to 34.6 percent (18-of-52). NM State was even better from beyond the arc, making 10-of-23 3-pointers for a 43.5 shooting percentage. The Vandals, meanwhile, only made 4-of-14 3-point attempts.
Ross-Miller kicked off the scoring with a 3-pointer for the Aggies, his first of two during the opening moments of the game. Leading 8-4, NM State embarked on a 16-0 run to take a commanding 20-point lead with 12:39 remaining in the first half.
The run was aided by four-consecutive 3-pointers from four different Aggie players. After a couple of Mullings free throws, NM State led 24-4. The Aggie defense held Idaho scoreless for almost six minutes of playing time.
The Vandals answered the NM State run with a 12-5 run of their own. After a 3-pointer from Idaho guard Connor Hill, the Aggie lead was down to 13 at 29-16 with just over five minutes left in the half.
NM State closed out the half, however, marking eight of the final 12 points to take a 39-23 lead heading into the locker room.
The Aggies shot 45.2 percent in the first half (14-of-31) while making over half of their 3-point attempts (7-of-13). The NM State defense allowed the Vandals only nine field goals in the half for a 34.6 shooting percentage (9-of-26).
Mullings and Ross-Miller each finished the half with nine points to lead the Aggies. Eldridge added another eight while Dixon chipped in seven. Nephawe led NM State with seven boards.
The Aggies squashed any hopes of a Vandal comeback early in the second half after starting the half with a 14-4 run. After a Mullings 3-pointer, NM State had its biggest lead of the contest at 53-27 with 15 minutes left in the game.
The Aggie lead would balloon to over 30 on three different occasions, the last coming after five-straight points by Eldridge midway through the half.
NM State would spend the final 10 minutes of the game taking the air out of the ball while caressing its lead. Although the Aggies made only two field goals in the final seven minutes, their lead was never challenged.
Nephawe put an exclamation point on the blowout win with a breakaway slam dunk for NM State’s final points of the contest.
The Aggies will now hit the road to continue conference play. NM State travels to Chicago State on Thursday, Jan. 16, before heading to Kansas City to take on UMKC on Saturday, Jan. 18.