Game #9-338: Denver Pioneers at New Mexico State AggiesJanuary 23, 2013 11:00 pm
Pan American Center
Wednesday night's game featuring a visit from the Denver Pioneers to the Pan American Center in Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies was one of the more important games of the week in the WAC. The Pioneers (before this game 11-7 overall, 7-1 in WAC games) and Aggies (12-8, 6-2) were playing for second place in the WAC in the first half of the season. Denver had won its prior seven consecutive WAC games, while New Mexico State's streak stood at six wins. Both lost to Louisiana Tech on the conference season's opening weekend, but the Aggies also lost to Texas-Arlington on that trip; both have defeated each other conference opponent once.
The Aggies hold a 12-5 series advantage over the Pioneers. Their first game ever was an Aggie win in the 1959 Far West Classic at Corvallis, Oregon, when New Mexico State belonged to the Border Conference and Denver to the Skyline. After those conferences collapsed after the formation of the WAC, the two schools played six games as independents between 1965 and 1975, three at each school, with the Aggies holding a 4-2 advantage. While both were members of the Sunbelt, they played ten regular season games, NMSU winning seven, never meeting in the Sunbelt tournament. Denver won their most recent meeting in 2005 at Las Cruces. This is Denver's first and last WAC season (they are heading to the Summit League next year).
The game began later than normal; 9:00 p.m. mountain time. It was pajama party night and some fans of all ages came out dressed for the event.
As you might expect from a game featuring Denver's Princeton offense, the pace was slow with each team having 56 or 57 possessions. The Aggies won the opening tip and the first two segments (between media timeouts) by identical 6-4 margins. After that break, junior guard Kevin Aronis came off the Aggie bench to score two of the first half's three #superhoops, leading the Aggies on a 10-4 run and a ten point advantage; Aronis replaced Daniel Mullings, who had already made the other three-pointer. Before the half, the Aggies stretched the lead to eleven, before Denver scored two buckets at the end of the period to cut the lead to seven with the score 29-22. In the period, Denver made 46% of their shots, with the Aggies only making 40%, but the Aggies' two rebound margin, their three three-point field goals, and their four point advantage from the free throw line led to their lead.
Mullings led all scorers with seven points. Aronis's six tied Pioneer guard Jalen Love for second. Three players on each team scored four each, including preseason all-conference Pioneer Chris Udofia and Aggie center Sim Bhullar. If you're interested, here's a video posted from the TV feed of a Bhullar dunk in the first half
At halftime, after the sleeping bag sack race, a hypnotist wowed the crowd by making a quartet of students act as he wished; after the game he gave a more extensive performance, for which I did not stay.
After the half, both teams focused on defense. The shooting percentage dropped to 36 for Denver and 33 for the Aggies, but the Aggies asserted their superior size, outrebounding the Pioneers by fourteen in the second period. The Aggie centers, Bhullar and Renaldo Dixon, each seemed to intimidate the Pioneers from going inside to score; Bhullar with sheer size and bulk, Dixon with quickness and shot-blocking prowess. The Pioneers closed the gap to five with fourteen minutes to play, but then failed to make a field goal for eleven minutes; the 13-1 NMSU run increased their lead to 47-30 with just over three minutes to play. Aggie seniors Tyrone Watson (seven) and Bandja Sy (four) scored most of the Aggie points during the run. After four timeouts, six Denver fouls, a double technical on Pioneer Chase Hallam and Watson, six Aggie free throws (including two missed front-ends of one-and-one opportunities by Watson--to the gym for him!), and a couple of late superhoops by the Pioneers, the final margin was 53-42 for the home team.
For the game, three Aggies scored in double figures, Watson with twelve (even with four missed free throws), Mullings with eleven, and Sy with ten. Three players led the Pioneer scoring with nine, Udofia, Love, and forward Royce O'Neale, who also grabbed ten rebounds. With the victory, the Aggies' win streak was extended to seven as the traveling partners move into the second half of the WAC schedule. Denver has five home games remaining, including key matchups with New Mexico State, Texas-Arlington, and league leading Louisiana Tech to end the season; the Pioneers will have a non-conference road game in the Bracket Busters event. New Mexico State has four conference home games and the return match with UTEP (in lieu of Bracket Busters) left in Las Cruces; key road games for the Aggies include visits to the Spectrum in Logan to face Utah State and Magness Arena in Denver for the return match with the Pioneers.
at NEW MEXICO STATE 53, DENVER 42
DENVER 11-8 (7-2) -- R. O'Neale 3-7 2-2 9; C. Udofia 4-12 0-0 9; B. Olson 3-7 0-0 6; J. Love 4-8 1-2 9; C. Hallam 3-6 0-0 7; C. Griffin 1-3 0-0 2; M. Byrd 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-44 3-4 42.
NEW MEXICO STATE 13-8 (7-2) -- B. Sy 4-10 2-2 10; T. Watson 5-9 2-6 12; D. Mullings 3-12 5-6 11; T. de Rouen 1-3 1-2 4; S. Bhullar 3-6 0-0 6; R. Dixon 1-6 2-2 4; K. Aronis 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 19-52 12-18 53.
Three-point goals: DEN 3-18 (C. Hallam 1-3; C. Udofia 1-6; M. Byrd 0-1; C. Griffin 0-1; R. O'Neale 1-3; B. Olson 0-2; J. Love 0-2), NMSU 3-11 (T. Watson 0-1; T. de Rouen 1-2; D. Mullings 0-2; K. Aronis 2-6); Rebounds: DEN 24 (R. O'Neale 10), NMSU 40 (B. Sy 8); Assists: DEN 6 (B. Olson 4), NMSU 7 (T. de Rouen 2); Total Fouls -- DEN 18, NMSU 8; Fouled Out: DEN-None; NMSU-None.