Game #9-139: Southern Mississippi at New Mexico State AggiesDecember 1, 2012 9:00 pm
Pan American Center
December 1 was another busy sports day for Las Crucens, but much of it came to us on the radio. In the afternoon, the Las Cruces High Bulldogs won their state semifinal football game at Albuquerque's Wilson Stadium, defeating the Eldorado Eagles. NMSU Aggie football traveled to San Marcos, Texas, for the (presumably) last WAC football game, losing to Texas State after teasing us in the first half. In Cedar City, Utah, early evening saw the NMSU women's basketball team win its fourth straight game in yet another thriller, 70-68, over Southern Utah; the four wins were by a total of twelve points. As that game concluded, fans came out for the first ever basketball game in the Pan American Center against the Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi.
NMSU and USM have played six games. Three were in the early fifties, when the schools both had different names. A December 21, 1951, Aggie victory at New Mexico A&M's old Williams Gym (now housing the Art Department) was followed ten days later by a Mississippi Southern triumph at El Paso's Memorial Gym in the Sun Carnival Classic. At the conclusion of the next season, the Aggies defeated USM in the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, a year when the Aggies played in both the NAIA and NCAA tournaments. The teams next met in the 1978 All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City, with NMSU winning by four, in the third year of legendary USM coach M.K. Turk's twenty years at the Golden Eagles' helm. Last year, the teams again met twice in the same season, first in the semi-final of the Great Alaska Shootout, an 80-72 win by the Golden Eagles
, followed by the first of a home-and-home series in Hattiesburg's Reed Green Coliseum, a USM 74-66 victory.
In both of last year's games, an Aggie team looking for chemistry was out-toughed by the smaller Golden Eagles. A few weeks after the second game, NMSU Coach Marvin Menzies took an action that many fans felt was critical to building the team that later won the WAC Tournament: removing guard Christian Kabongo, whose rude gesture in a rivalry game at UTEP outraged fans of both schools, but more importantly who rarely did anything with the ball but shoot; passing occasionally is often expected of a guard. Kabongo had a great night in the game in Anchorage, making fifteen straight free throws, impressed in the Aggies' two other Alaska victories, and played well enough at Hattiesburg that USM coach Larry Eustachy accepted Kabongo's transfer to USM. (Eustachy is now at Colorado State, and Kabongo never played at USM; he will presumably be eligible the second semester for Morgan State. And yes, he is a cousin to Texas's Myck Kabongo, subject of a lengthy NCAA inquiry.)
Southern Mississippi had won all six of its prior games this season, the last one being a Tuesday home victory over new WAC member Denver. The prior Aggie game was the Wednesday rivalry loss at UTEP
and their record stood at 3-4.
The game was a physical one, with thirty-eight fouls called. Both teams played predominantly zone defenses, and USM used a 2-2-1 trapping press much of the game, new USM coach Donnie Tyndall (formerly at Morehead State) attempting to take advantage of NMSU's inexperience at the point guard position, with some success, especially in the second half. Both teams were looking for the break when that was available, and each team got some chances. The Aggies took higher percentage shots, getting the ball inside to centers Tshilidze Nephawe (6'10") and Sim Bhullar (7'5").
You'll remember Bhullar as the primary subject of the Aggies'
first appearance on midmajority.com this season, Kenny Ocker's INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN
. Sunday, December 2, would be the redshirt freshman's twentieth birthday, and as a surprise, his mother and younger brother came from Toronto for a visit. There was some speculation in the media that this was an official visit by brother Tanveer, who is a 7'3" class of 2014 prospect himself, but that was quickly squelched by the coaching staff. Although I saw him in the stands, I did not get close enough to take a picture, so here's one courtesy of North Pole Hoops.
With the Aggies up 7-4, Sim Bhullar entered the game and made six quick points on a short jumper and two dunks and returned to the bench with the Aggie lead now 15-9. No matter who was on the court, the Aggies pressed their height advantage by winning the majority of the rebounds (16-9 in the first half) and the NMSU lead grew. On his second trip to the court, Bhullar's third dunk of the half and the following free throw made it 32-18. A layup and a dunk by patched-up (see the UTEP game recap for details) Aggie guard Daniel Mullings brought NMSU the biggest lead of the half at 36‑20. USM ended the half with an 8-3 run keyed by two Neil Watson superhoops to make the halftime score 39-28, NMSU.
Bhullar had eleven first half points to lead the game, followed for the Aggies by Mullings's seven. Forwards Dwayne Davis and Jonathan Mills led the Golden Eagles with nine and eight points, respectively. Davis, with three fouls, was the only player in foul trouble at the half.
The Aggies started the second half in a man-to-man defense, while USM continued both the matchup zone and the full court pressure. The officials seemed to find a quicker whistle to attempt to maintain control in light of the physical play. Davis picked up his fourth foul two minutes into the half and was never again a factor, fouling out with over six minutes left. The two teams together shot twenty-nine second-half free throws; USM made all ten of theirs, and the Aggies fifteen of nineteen.
Another Aggie run was sparked by Bhullar's return to the game and the resumption of the match-up zone defense. Bhullar made two free throws, then his fourth dunk of five on the night, stretching the lead back to sixteen. The rest of the half saw three long delays while the officials reviewed the video monitor to make no call, and a fourth delay while Nephawe's cut, and the resulting blood, seemingly all over the south half of the court, was cleaned up. (It was an ugly second half to watch, given all the stoppages for fouls and perceived fouls.) The Aggie lead was cut in half from the highest point, but they coasted to a 68‑60 victory.
Aggie scoring and rebounding were led by Mullings with twenty-one points and eleven boards. Bhullar had a career-high seventeen points and seven boards in twenty-two minutes on the court. Three Golden Eagles scored in double figures: Mills and forward Michael Craig scored twelve each, and Neil Watson added eleven. USM continued their road trip for two more games, going first to Arizona, then to WAC member Louisiana Tech. The Aggies headed to Mobile to face former Sunbelt foe South Alabama, then home for final exams before venturing to Albuquerque for the first of two straight games against the University of New Mexico. at NEW MEXICO STATE 68, SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 60
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 6-1 (0-0) -- J. Mills 5-7 2-3 12; N. Watson 3-7 2-2 11; J. Brooks 0-11 0-0 0; M. Craig 3-11 6-6 12; D. Davis 3-6 2-2 9; R. McGill 0-3 0-0 0; C. Jenkins 1-6 0-0 2; N. Carey 2-2 2-2 6; D. Edwin 3-3 0-0 7; D. Boardingham 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 20-57 15-17 60.
NEW MEXICO STATE 4-4 (0-0) -- T. Watson 2-4 3-5 7; B. Sy 3-7 0-0 7; D. Mullings 6-9 9-10 21; K. Ross-Miller 1-3 4-4 6; S. Bhullar 7-8 3-6 17; T. Nephawe 2-6 2-3 6; T. de Rouen 1-2 2-4 4; K. Aronis 0-0 0-0 0; E. Weary 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-39 23-32 68.
Three-point goals: USM 5-18 (N. Watson 3-4; C. Jenkins 0-4; J. Brooks 0-8; D. Davis 1-1; D. Edwin 1-1), NMSU 1-5 (B. Sy 1-3; D. Mullings 0-2); Rebounds: USM 22 (J. Mills 8), NMSU 32 (D. Mullings 11); Assists: USM 5 (N. Watson 2), NMSU 11 (T. Watson 5); Total Fouls -- USM 26, NMSU 13; Fouled Out: USM-D. Davis; NMSU-None.