LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The New Mexico State men’s basketball team avenged a two-point loss to Kansas City earlier in the season by defeating the Kangaroos, 71-48, Thursday night inside the Pan American Center.
The Aggies have now won 20-consecutive Western Athletic Conference games inside the Pan American Center. With the win, NM State improves to 19-8 and 8-3 in WAC play. The ‘Roos fall to 7-16 and 4-6 in conference play.
NM State’s win, coupled with a Utah Valley loss at home versus Seattle on Thursday, means the Aggies are only one game behind the conference-leading Wolverines.
The Aggies used great defense and their big presence inside to easily handle UMKC. NM State held the ‘Roos to 26.4 percent shooting from the field (19-of-72) and 15.4 percent from 3-point range (2-of-13) while doubling up UMKC, 32-16, in the paint. The Aggies also had 12 blocked shots in the game, almost tying the school record of 14 set earlier this season.
NM State shot 42.1 percent from the field (24-of-57) and an even better 46.2 percent from beyond the arc (6-of-13).
Redshirt junior Tshilidzi Nephawe continues to have a banner year. The Aggie big man marked his team-leading seventh double-double of the season, leading NM State in both points and rebounding. Nephawe finished with 15 points and 13 boards while adding four blocked shots.
Senior forward Renaldo Dixon, meanwhile, also finished with a double-double, his first of the season. Dixon sank 11 points and added 10 rebounds, also his first double-digit rebound game of the season.
Junior guard DK Eldridge added 10 points as did freshman Ian Baker , who had his second double-digit scoring game of his young Aggie career. Sophomore center Sim Bhullar, still getting his stride back after a being shelved with a foot injury, added 11 rebounds, seven points and four blocked shots.
NM State was down a couple early, 4-2, but a 10-0 run, including slam dunks inside by Nephawe and Bhullar, gave the Aggies a 12-4 lead with 13:14 left in the first half. The ‘Roos would be held scoreless by the NM State defense for over five minutes.
UMKC countered, however, with seven-straight points of its own and after a 3-pointer by senior forward Trinity Hall the Aggie lead was down to 12-11 with 11:06 left in the half.
A shot from beyond the arc from NM State senior guard Kevin Aronis stopped the run. The Aggies then decided to use their size inside to extend the lead. Nephawe had a couple of slam dunks inside and Dixon also had a couple of inside buckets. After a couple of Mullings’ free throws, the NM State lead had grown to double digits, 25-15, with 5:33 left in the first half.
The teams traded buckets throughout the final five minutes of the half. Nephawe had the final four points for the Aggies as NM State went into the locker room leading 35-22.
The Aggies showed their size as they outscored the ‘Roos 18-8 in the paint in the first half. NM State also played well defensively, holding UMKC to 30 percent shooting from the field (9-30), 20 percent from 3-point range (1-5) and blocking six shots.
The Aggies shot 46.4 percent (13-of-28) from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range (2-of-5).
Nephawe almost had his double-double in the first half, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds to lead NM State in both categories. Mullings and Dixon added six points each while Dixon also had six rebounds.
Both teams struggled to begin the second half, but yet another Nephawe dunk gave the Aggies their biggest lead of 14 points at 43-29 with just under 15 minutes left in the game.
With NM State leading 43-33, the Aggies went on an 8-0 run, that included two 3-pointers by Eldridge, to take a commanding 51-33 lead with 10:55 left in the game.
The NM State defense held the ‘Roos to only six points in almost seven minutes of playing time, and after a Bhullar hook in the lane the Aggie lead had ballooned to 20 at 59-39 with just over six minutes left in the matchup.
NM State never looked back as they controlled the final portion of the game. A 3-pointer by Baker with under a minute left put the final nail in the coffin as the Aggies won going away, 71-48.
The Aggies will continue their home stand with a matchup versus Chicago State on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. (MT) inside the Pan Am. NM State will try to avenge a second loss this week as the Cougars also defeated the Aggies on the road earlier in the season.