Much like happened in Las Cruces last Friday, the New Mexico State Aggies came out with great intensity, jumped out to an early lead, and answered every Miner run with one of their own en route to a sweep completing 77-68 victory.
The Aggies opened Saturday's contest by scoring the game's first seven points, as the Miners couldn't find the bucket, missing their first four shots of the game. Julian Washburn finally got the Miners on the board, three and a half minutes in, cutting the NMSU lead to 7-2.
The Miners' cold start continued through the first ten minutes of the game, as they managed just six points, hitting on just three of their first 16 attempts. But, solid defense early on would keep them in the game, and the Miners would eventually come back to take a first half lead.
UTEP would outscore New Mexico State 10-3 over the next four and a half minutes and would take their first lead of the game at 20-19 with 5:34 remaining in the half. The two teams would trade leads the rest of the way, but it would be the Aggies who would hold the 33-28 advantage at the intermission.
The Miners would strike first out of the locker rooms on jumper by Vince Hunter, but the Aggies would score seven straight from there to open up a ten point lead at 40-30.
After that, it seemed to be all Aggies. The Miners would cut the lead to six on handful of occasions, but they would be able to get no closer than that. NMSU would lead by as many as twelve in the closing minutes, and would end up walking away with the 77-68 win.
K.C. Ross-Miller led the way for the Aggies, going for 26 points to go along with 6 assists. Daniel Mullings finished with 17 points and 4 assists, and Tshilizdi Nephawe chipped in with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Cedrick Lang finished the night as the top scorer for the Miners, going for 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Justin Crosgile was the only other Miner to score in double digits. He finished with 11 points and 4 assists. Julian Washburn finished with 9 points and John Bohannon had 8.
It was an extremely tough loss for the Miners tonight. They simply couldn't find any rhythm on offense, and after two meetings, its clear that at this point, this New Mexico State team is just farther along than the Miners.
The Aggies have size, speed, talent, and scorers, and frankly might be a better rounded team than anyone the Miners will face in the upcoming Battle 4 Atlantis, save for perhaps Kansas.
It sounds a bit much, but the truth is this team came into a hostile environment tonight and controlled the game nearly from tip to finish. They may just be the team from up the road, but make no mistake about how just how good they are.
Coach Floyd had this to say following the loss:
"They were better than us in all areas, and the only positive was we rebounded a little better and got some solid play out of Justin Crosgile and Lang...We opened the game like we'd never seen a zone offense and a zone defense...We finally settled in a little bit against the zone and didn't really get a lot of attack in us until late. I felt like we really missed McKenzie Moore tonight."
No doubt, the Miners missed McKenzie Moore, the team's leading scorer, who was out due to apparent issues with a concussion. The Miners had few answers defensively for the Aggies' guards, and had even less to say for themselves on the offensive end.
Clearly, this was not the outcome that Miner fans hoped for, or expected, but its just another learning experience for a team that is still trying to find themselves. They'll have to get back to the drawing board, and prepare for the long awaited Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Miners will open up that tournament on Thanksgiving day, hopefully with the services of McKenzie Moore. Their first round matchup with be against the Tennessee Volunteers, and tipoff for that one is slated for 7:30 p.m. MT.
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