One of the inevitabilities of watching your team play in person is that at some point you will walk away from the game disappointed. It may not happen every time. If you root for a good team it may not even that happen often. Such was the case for me on Friday night at the Great Alaska Shootout.
New Mexico State was playing Southern Miss in the championship semifinals and after their performance on Thursday night against Central Michigan, a game in which they dismantled the Chippewas from the get go, just about everyone attending the tournament felt that the Aggies were the team to beat. Southern Miss failed to get the memo.
The Aggies were the much larger team and they had the deeper bench too. What they didn't have this night was more toughness.
The Aggies came out and led by six early and had pushed the lead to eight midway through the first half. However, they couldn't sustain their lead and USM crawled back and trailed by only four points at halftime. The second half was a back and forth affair and seven minutes into the half, USM took the lead, for good.
The undersized Eagles outworked the bigger Aggies. They had staved off foul trouble; several USM players had four fouls early in the second half. In fact, the Aggies were already in the bonus with just over 15 minutes to play in the game and one night after tying a Shootout record with 35 makes from the free throw line, the Aggies looked to be headed for another extended stay at the charity stripe.
The Aggies were able to get the stripe often. They ended up shooting 44 free throws, five shy of their mark the previous night. However, this time, their free throw shots weren't falling at the same rate. The Aggies hit just 15-of-26 free throw attempts in the second half. In fact, it seemed like none of their shots were falling. Not the layups, not the short jumpers and certainly not the three point shots.
On the other side, Southern Miss was grabbing offensive rebounds (seven in total), making free throws (14-of-18) and hitting timely three pointers (3-of-6). All to the delight of head coach Larry Eustachy.
When you're trying to pull off a Red Line Upset, free throws, rebounding and making shots are essential. On this night, the Aggies couldn't do any of the three things and as a result, they came up short in their bid for a third RLU of the season. The words of Aggie head coach Marvin Menzies told the whole story, "They just wanted it more."
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 80, NEW MEXICO STATE 72 11/25/2011
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 4-1 (0-0) -- Z. Johnson 4-17 10-11 21; L. Page 9-12 1-2 22; M. Bolden 7-15 1-1 17; A. Johnson 2-9 2-5 7; N. Watson 2-6 8-9 12; J. Mills 3-5 3-4 9; T. Pelham 2-4 0-0 4; C. Jenkins 3-5 2-2 9; R. McGill 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 17-23 80. NEW MEXICO STATE 4-1 (0-0) -- W. McKines 6-13 3-5 17; H. Laroche 2-8 4-8 8; C. Kabongo 2-9 15-15 19; T. Watson 3-6 4-8 10; B. Sy 2-6 0-0 4; D. Mullings 1-2 0-0 2; H. Rahman 3-3 0-2 6; T. Nephawe 1-1 4-6 6; R. Dixon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-48 30-44 72.
Three-point goals: USM 7-14 (A. Johnson 1-1; M. Bolden 2-4; N. Watson 0-1; C. Jenkins 1-2; L. Page 3-6), NMSU 2-10 (W. McKines 2-4; H. Laroche 0-1; T. Watson 0-1; B. Sy 0-2; C. Kabongo 0-1; D. Mullings 0-1); Rebounds: USM 36 (J. Mills 11), NMSU 24 (W. McKines 5); Assists: USM 14 (N. Watson 4), NMSU 13 (H. Laroche 5); Total Fouls -- USM 29, NMSU 23; Fouled Out: USM-T. Pelham; NMSU-H. Laroche.