Game #9-449: Texas-El Paso Miners at New Mexico State AggiesFebruary 23, 2013 9:00 pm
Pan American Center
New Mexico State believes their all-time record before the second game this season against UTEP is Aggies 103, Miners 100. The Miners believe the long rivalry is tied at 102 games each. Whichever is correct, a question I may try to tackle over the summer, the Aggie-Miner rivalry, begun in 1915 between two schools thirty-eight miles apart, has a long, storied, and fiercely contested history. An example: when Don Haskins became the head coach at Texas Western, his Miner teams won their first ten consecutive games against New Mexico State, ending with the Miners' national championship season in 1966. Lou Henson began as the Aggie coach in 1965-66; after losing those first two to the Bear, NMSU won the next nine games between the schools, including the Aggies' Final Four season in 1969-70. Over ten years, UTEP 11, NMSU 9. Much of their history looks similar.
The timing of this game was unusual. These teams usually play both annual contests in late November or December. This year, NMSU did not choose to participate in what has turned out to be the final year of the BracketBusters event, and UTEP was amenable to playing one of the games later in the year. Miner Coach Tim Floyd, who started his career as a Haskins assistant, has reveled in the rivalry and has wondered aloud why anyone would consider curtailing this matchup to only once a year; music to my ears. Attendance at each arena is always augmented by fans of the visiting school, and it would be difficult to find two schools as consistently competitive as these.
This fourth of NMSU's non-conference rivalry games this season was the Aggies' last chance for a win. On November 28, the Miners held on for a 55-54 home victory
as Daniel Mullings' last second attempt for the Aggies circled the rim and came out. In December, the Aggies lost both games against top-25 New Mexico, first in Albuquerque
, then in Las Cruces
. (Thanks to #TMM9
for the motivation to attend all four rivalry games this season! I gave a brief thought to staying home for this one, since I had seen the Miners four times this year and they were all UTEP victories. Bad luck, naaaah!)
The Miners came to Las Cruces with a 14-11 record, 7-5 in Conference USA, and directly from a Wednesday 45-39 loss at Southern Mississippi, a team the Aggies defeated in December. The Aggies were also coming from a 73-69 loss at Utah State on the previous Saturday; that game snapped the Aggies' twelve-game win streak.
Aggie fans and students took it upon themselves to make this game a "whiteout." Sponsors were found to provide t-shirts to the student section and a crowd of 10,729 filled the arena with the largest crowd since the final of the 2008 WAC Tournament (the classic game between 3-seed Boise and 4-seed NMSU--four teams tied for the regular season championship--that the Broncos won after three overtimes.)
These two teams, especially when they are functioning as their respective coaches desire, focus first on defense; this half saw both teams do so in a big way. After UTEP won the opening tip, Aggie 7'5" freshman center Sim Bhullar promptly swatted the Miners first shot into the crowd behind the Aggie bench; Bhullar's 60th block tied the Aggie season record for blocked shots, and two more later in the game broke the record with at least four more games to play. NMSU sophomore point guard Terrel de Rouen dropped in a three-pointer from the top of the key to open the scoring. After ten minutes, the Aggies got out to a 9-6 lead, to which the Miners responded with three straight baskets to have a three-point margin at the under-8 timeout. The score didn't change before the under-4 timeout. NMSU closed out the half with an 8-2 run of their own, taking a 17-14 halftime lead. That's right, 17-14.
The Miners made seven of twenty-eight field goal attempts; their 25% shooting included no three-point field goals on five attempts, and they missed both free throw tries. The Aggies shot even worse from the floor, 23%, but made two of seven shots outside the arc, and nearly half (5-11) of their free throws. No one on either team exceeded Aggie wing Bandja Sy's five points; Miner Cedrick Lang's two field goals led his team in scoring.
The second half started with three fouls on the centers, Bhullar's first coming between Miner Cedrick Lang's second and third. After each team made an inside shot, Lang's committed his fourth foul trying to draw a charge from inside the arc under the basket; Aggie power forward Renaldo Dixon made the layup, but missed the free throw. The Aggies struggled against the Miner defense collapsing to keep the ball out of the lane; the Aggie sagging man-to-man similarly limited the touches of the UTEP big men. Konner Tucker's three-pointer gave the Miners a two-point lead, but Aggie Remi Barry responded to put his team back in front by one after nine minutes were played in the second half. Between the under-12 timeout and the under-8, the Miners found a seam in the NMSU defense, outscoring the Aggies 11-4 on four inside buckets. C. J. Cooper's superhoop after the timeout gave the Miners a 48-39 lead.
The Aggies shifted defenses, playing a zone for the remainder of the contest. Bandja Sy stole the ball and made a long pass to Daniel Mullings for a layup. The next Aggie possession resulted in a Bhullar dunk and a Tim Floyd timeout. Aggie coach Marvin Menzies sent forward Kevin Aronis into the game to replace Sy; Aronis immediately sunk a superhoop from the right baseline to cut the Miner advantage to two. After a UTEP turnover and the final media timeout came a Mullings turnover and a missed shot by Cooper. Jacques Streeter fouled Mullings, who made only the second free throw, cutting the margin to one. Cooper dropped in a triple from the left baseline, but Aronis again responded to keep the Aggies close. Mullings stole the ball, and Menzies took a timeout with 1:23 to play. Aronis dropped in a fifteen-foot jumper with 1:05 to play; timeout Miners. A tie ball on the ensuing missed three-point attempt by Miner forward McKenzie Moore gave the ball to the Aggies with 45 seconds to play. Tucker fouled de Rouen, who made both ends of the one-and-one to increase the NMSU lead to three. Cooper attempted another long shot for the tie; Bhullar rebounded and made an outlet pass to Sy, who was deliberately fouled by Cooper as he streaked toward an unnecessary dunk with two seconds to play. He made the second free throw capping the Aggies 16-3 run to finish the game with the 55-51 win.
Both teams shot the ball much better in the second half. The Miners made 63% of their shots, including five of nine three point attempts; they made all four free throws as well. NMSU's 52% shooting included four of seven superhoop tries; they also made eight of eleven free throws and outrebounded the Miners 35-27. The Miners were led in scoring by McKenzie Moore's ten points; Cooper added nine while Tucker and center John Bohannon scored eight each. The Aggie scoring leader was Aronis with eleven points in only thirteen minutes of play. Aronis rebuffed his teammates' attempt to carry him off the court after the game, saying he was just doing his job. Among the other Aggies, Sy scored ten, Dixon had eight points and eight rebounds, Mullings also got eight rebounds, and Bhullar led all rebounders with nine.
The Miners had four CUSA games remaining to try to overtake Memphis and Southern Mississippi in the regular season standings. The Aggies had three exceptionally important conference games remaining against the other three teams at the top of the WAC. NMSU had the possibility of winning the conference with victories at Denver and against the two teams that beat NMSU on the first weekend of the conference season: Louisiana Tech and Texas-Arlington.
No matter whose count you believe, the Aggies continue to hold the lead over their neighbors to the south in one of the best rivalries in the country!
at NEW MEXICO STATE 55, TEXAS-EL PASO 51
TEXAS-EL PASO 14-12 (7-5) -- J. Washburn 3-11 0-0 6; J. Streeter 2-7 0-0 4; K. Tucker 3-5 0-0 8; J. Bohannon 3-5 2-2 8; M. Moore 4-7 2-2 10; C. Lang 2-5 0-0 4; C. Cooper 3-5 0-0 9; C. Washburn 0-2 0-2 0; M. Moore 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 21-50 4-6 51.
NEW MEXICO STATE 19-9 (12-3) -- S. Bhullar 3-4 0-2 6; R. Dixon 2-4 4-7 8; B. Sy 4-12 1-2 10; D. Mullings 2-10 1-2 5; T. de Rouen 2-8 2-3 7; K. Aronis 4-6 0-0 11; K. Ross-Miller 0-1 3-4 3; R. Barry 1-2 2-2 5; M. Buovac 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-47 13-22 55.
Three-point goals: UTEP 5-14 (J. Streeter 0-2; K. Tucker 2-3; C. Cooper 3-5; M. Moore 0-2; M. Moore 0-2), NMSU 6-14 (B. Sy 1-3; R. Dixon 0-1; R. Barry 1-1; T. de Rouen 1-4; K. Aronis 3-5); Rebounds: UTEP 23 (J. Bohannon 5), NMSU 35 (S. Bhullar 9); Assists: UTEP 7 (M. Moore 2), NMSU 10 (D. Mullings 5); Total Fouls -- UTEP 19, NMSU 10; Fouled Out: UTEP-None; NMSU-None.