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NMSU sweeps UTEP for the second straight season

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP got off to the perfect start Friday night against NMSU, but once again UTEP was unable to put that together for a full 40-minutes dropping their ninth straight in a 79-70 loss to NMSU.

Dominic Artis led UTEP with 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists, while Matt Willms added 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor.

But UTEP turned the ball over 17 times, 11 of those were committed by UTEP’s back court tandem of Artis, and Omega Harris most coming in key situations that buried UTEP.

The Aggies came out slow, coming up empty on their first five possessions via three turnovers as UTEP opened up in an effective point zone that sparked the strong start.

Dominic Artis, and Jake Flaggert each knocked down 3-pointers, then Artis put NMSU’s Jemerrio Jones on a poster with a one-handed dunk on a fast break giving UTEP an early 10-0 lead at the under 16 minute timeout of the first half.

Artis extended UTEP’s lead to 14-5 with a floater in the paint coming off an offensive rebound, but the Aggies would adjust, and respond with a barrage of 3-pointers, and never gave up the lead for the rest of the evening.

NMSU would hit five in a row from downtown on consecutive possessions, sparking a 15-0 run that flipped the lead to 20-14 NMSU with eight minutes left in the half.

Ian Baker hit a pair, as did Braxton Huggins during the stretch as the Aggies picked apart the UTEP zone with good ball movement while UTEP went four minutes-plus without a bucket missing five in a row from the field during the run.

Baker would knockdown a third 3-pointer extending the run to 20-2 as the Aggies opened up a 25-16 lead with just under seven minutes left in the opening half.

Although a Jake Flaggert 3-pointer cut the NMSU lead to 27-23, but the Miners had no answers for Ian Baker in the first half.

Baker answered Flaggert’s 3-pointer with his fourth 3-ball of the half to extend the lead to 30-23. Baker finished with 14 first half points, and the Aggies led 38-30 at halftime, shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point land in the first half.

Matt Willms scored the first six points of the second half, with an alley-oop slam from Artis cutting down the deficit to 38-36 just a few trips into the second half.

But Ian Baker continued his onslaught.

Baker scored five straight after Willms’ quick start, including another 3-pointer which led to a 8-0 NMSU run as the Aggies went up 46-36 at the 16:02 mark of the second half.

The Aggies would go on a lengthy scoring drought, as UTEP took advantage with an 8-0 run capped off by a jumper from Omega Harris who scored 12 points to trim the lead down to 49-44 at the 11:45 mark of the second half.

But the Aggies were just too much in the end shooting 54.3 percent on the night, and answered again with a 10-4 spurt as a dunk from Baker put the Aggies up for good 61-48 with seven minutes left to play.

UTEP would cut the lead down seven, then eight points by a pair of 3-pointers from Deon Barrett, but the Aggies rolled to their 11th straight win improving to 13-2 on the season, and completed the Battle of I-10 sweep for the second straight season.

Baker ended the night with a game-high 24 points, and finished with six 3-pointers. Jemerrio Jones recorded another double-double with 17 points, and 11 rebounds.

UTEP shot 49.2 percent in the game, but they sent an NMSU team who thrives at the free throw line 26 times, with NMSU making 19 of those freebies on the night.

Paul Thomas showed flashes of improvement putting up eight points, seven rebounds, and four assists before fouling out in 28 minutes of action.

Tim Floyd’s club only got to the free throw line eight times, and showed necessary improvement in stretches, but again the Miners were just unable to pull it together for a complete effort.

The Miners fall to 2-10 overall and start a grueling C-USA road trip to open conference play which starts Sunday afternoon in San Antonio against UTSA.