CHICAGO – The New Mexico State men’s basketball team dropped its first Western Athletic Conference game and ended its seven-game win streak after falling to Chicago State, 86-81, in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Jan. 16. The Aggies are now 14-6 overall and 3-1 in the WAC, while Chicago State moves to 8-9 on the year and 3-0 in conference play.
Junior guard Daniel Mullings led all scorers with 26 points that included 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. However, the Aggies as a team struggled from the charity stripe going 21-of-37 for a 56.8 free-throw percentage. NM State dominated the boards outrebounding the Cougars 36-26. The Aggie also made 10 treys on the evening with senior guard Kevin Aronis leading the way going 5-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc for 15 points.
Junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe marked his fifth double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, but went 4-of-10 from the free throw line. Junior guard DK Eldridge played tough and chipped in with 14 points, two rebounds and three assists.
The Aggies started the game hitting 4-of-5 3-point attempts and were shooting 58.3 percent from the field to take a 19-11 lead with 11:22 left in the first half. Chicago State pulled to within four when Eldridge went down to the floor on what seemed to be a questionable no-call with just over 10 minutes remaining in the half.
The NM State shooting percentage fell to 38.2 percent after Chicago State went on 16-3 run over five minutes of play. The Aggies trailed 27-22 after that run with 6:22 left in the half. NM State was down by as many as eight at 36-28 with 4:11 left, but the Aggies never-say-die attitude kept them in the game.
The Aggies finished the half shooting 44.4 percent from the field, although Chicago State was shooting 55.2 percent, while both teams went into the locker room with 40 points on the board. This was the first time during league play that NM State went into halftime without the lead.
Chicago State took advantage of four early Aggie fouls and used a 15-8 run to take a 55-48 lead with 12:55 left in the second half. A nice rebound and put-back by Nephawe got the Aggies to 50. NM State trailed by five with 12:21 on the clock. Eldridge hit his second 3-pointer of the game with 11:30 left, that was followed by a Chicago State turnover, giving the Aggies the ball out of the media timeout.
Aronis hit a 3-pointer with 11:11 on the clock to give the Aggies their second lead of the game at 56-55. It was back-and-forth from that point with Mullings giving the Aggies a 65-64 lead with 4:45 left in the game. A 3-pointer by Chicago State gave the Cougars a 67-65 lead, but the Aggies bounced right back and tied the game 67-67 when Mullings put in another layup with 4:23 left to play.
The Aggies were in the double-bonus with under three minutes to play and Ross-Miller was the first to head to the line, although he missed two straight attempts from the charity stripe. He got another chance after getting a rebound with 2:01 on the clock and made both his attempts to give NM State a 72-71 lead. Chicago State made two free throws with 1:49 left to take a 73-72 lead. The Cougars extended their lead on a 3-pointer by Quinton Pippen to 76-72 with 1:25 remaining.
A Mullings’ layup and made free throw got the Aggies to within one at 76-75 with 1:14 on the clock, but Chicago State regained momentum on a dunk with 49 seconds left to play. Both teams exchanged free throws with Mullings making two with 16 seconds left to make it an 80-78 ballgame, but two more made free throws by the Cougars extended it to a four-point game in favor of the home team. Aronis gave the Aggies a chance by making a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to play.
The Aggies had to foul and sent Chicago State to the free-throw line with eight seconds left and again with six seconds on the clock as the Cougars made all four free-throw attempts to conclude the game at 86-81.
NM State stays on the road and heads to Kansas City to face WAC opponent UMKC, Saturday, Jan. 18, at 6 p.m. (MT). The game will air on Comcast in New Mexico and fans should check local listings for airtimes. ‘Voice of the Aggies’ Jack Nixon will also be broadcasting the game on the Aggie Sports Network with coverage in Las Cruces on 103.9 FM.