LAS VEGAS – Junior guard Daniel Mullings scored 20-plus points for the ninth time this season leading No. 2 seeded New Mexico State to a 69-63 win over No. 6 Bakersfield in the semifinals of the 2014 Western Athletic Conference Tournament, Friday, March 15 in the Orleans Arena.
Mullings scored 21 points going 9-for-16 from the field while coming up with three steals to help NM State move on to the WAC Tournament title game Saturday, March 15 at 8 p.m. (MT) with television coverage on ESPNU. Junior guard DK Eldridge added 17 points, which was the fourth time he scored at least 17 points in a game this season.
The Aggies finished the night hitting 25-of-47 shots (53.2 %) and making 14-of-21 free throws. The NM State defense came up with four blocks and six steals and forced the Roadrunners to toss up nine turnovers.
“I am really happy with the victory and I thought that [just like Seattle], Bakersfield played a phenomenal game had a great game plan, throwing a lot of different defenses at us,” said head coach Marvin Menzies. “We knew as coaches what we wanted to do but our guys were just a little caught off guard. Eventually we settled down and made adjustments. At the end of the day I am really happy with how we played and responded but you got to give credit to Bakersfield Rod Barnes did a fantastic job.”
The Aggies started the game on a 7-1 run but Bakersfield surged with an 11-7 run to pull within two with 11:27 left in the half. NM State fell behind for the first time in the game at 19-18 with 9:15 left in the half when Bakersfield’s Javonte Maynor hit a 3-pointer. Junior Tshilidzi Nephawe hit 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game at 19, but the Roadrunners went on a 5-0 rally taking a 24-19 lead at the 8:14 mark. It was back and forth until the end of the half as Bakersfield scored another 17 points and the Aggies scored 16 to make it a 35-26 ballgame at the half.
The Aggies shot 33 percent from the field in the first half hitting only 8-of-24 shots. NM State’s 8-of-11 free throw shooting kept it in the game but the Aggies were outrebounded 22-14 in the half. Junior DK Eldridge and senior Renaldo Dixon lead the way offensively with five first half points each and junior Daniel Mullings dished out three assists.
NM State started the second half going on a 10-5 run in the first 3:43 of play that included two layups from Mullings and one each from Bhullar, Dixon and Nephawe to make it a 40-38 game in favor of Bakersfield. The Aggies battled and eventually tied the game at 43-43 when Mulling put in another layup at the 12:29 mark. NM State was shooting 8-of-9 in the first 8:20 play and contained the Roadrunners defensively.
Mullings got a steal put in a high-flying dunk to give his team 56-52 lead with 5:05 left on the clock in regulation. Both teams exchanged points for the next 3 minutes but NM State extended its lead to nine when Mullings put in two consecutive layups to take the score to 65-56. NM State hit four free throws with under 20 seconds to play as Bakersfield drained a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left but that wasn’t enough as the Aggies walked off the court with a 69-63 win.
NM State faces Idaho in the WAC Tournament Championship, Saturday, March 15 at 8 p.m. (MT) in the Orleans Arena with radio coverage on the Aggie Sports Network (KGRT 103.9 FM in Las Cruces). The game will also be televised on ESPNU while in-game updates will be given on Twitter @NMStateAggies.