By Albert Luna
NMSU was down by three points at halftime to a solid Tennessee Tech team. The Aggies realized they needed to play smarter, and it worked. The Aggies played the first game in the Air Force Classic on Wednesday night against the Tennessee Tech Golden, downing the visiting team, 76-63.
New Mexico State opened up the scoring with an early possession bucket from Braxton Huggins. After two straight Tennessee Tech scores, Tanveer Bhullar got his layup to roll in and drew the contact, putting the Aggies even with the Golden Eagles.
Bhullar missed the free throw. The opening possession of play was sloppy for both teams, in what could probably be highlighted with a sequence that saw Bhullar gather three straight offensive rebounds, but unable to hit on three straight shots from up close.
“I told the guys to just relax and keep going inside because they will start to fall and to their credit, they did,” Coach Marvin Menzies says.
The first media timeout had the Golden Eagles up by a point, 8-7. The Aggies were able to muster some much-needed momentum in the second sequence of play, outscoring the Eagles 5-3, including a nice and-one by Eli Chuha.
The Aggies continued to struggle with their shots and possessions, including a zone that Tennessee Tech hit them within the half court. The Aggies had six early turnovers by just 12 minutes into the game. An under-8 media timeout saw the Eagles jump out to a 20-17 lead, with the Golden Eagles moving the ball exceptionally well.
The Golden Eagles caught fire later on in the half, hitting four straight three-pointers, putting them up 29-21.
“They had some guys shooting some three’s that were not in the scouting report and to their credit, they knocked down some difficult shots,” NMSU guard Ian Baker says.
A timely Baker-three of his own stopped the bleeding before a Pascal Siakam-score made things closer, but Tennessee Tech continued to come back. Another timeout had NMSU down by just three. After the timeout, the Aggies fell victim to Tennessee Tech’s repeated three-point shooting.
The Aggies headed into the half down three, 36-33, with Siakam collecting 15 points and six boards in the first half alone.
The second half opened up with a quick Aggies score. But the Golden Eagles were not going to go down easily. The only problem was NMSU did not plan on it either.
The Aggies used two big buckets from Siakam to take the lead, forcing a timeout by the Golden Eagles, putting NMSU up 41-38. Ian Baker got hot to start the second half, hitting two straight from down, forcing a timeout with NMSU up, 47-40.
The rest of the half had a similar tone to it, as the Aggies stayed in the game for the remainder of the sequence. The only difference was the Aggies hit most of their threes, in start contrast to the first half.
It was more of the same for Pascal Siakam, as he equaled his first half total for points (15) and tallied 30 for the game. The big man also collected 11 rebounds.
“I’m happy for Pascal because of the person he is,” Menzies says. “I’ve had guys score 30 points here before, but I’m not sure I’ve been happier for one like Pascal just because of how he is.”
Menzies was also quick to point out this kind of performance should be expected from Siakam since he had a clear size advantage. But Siakam simply attributed the win to team effort.
“We just wanted to play better really,” he says.
The Aggies now move to 2-1 on the season. They next play Mississippi Valley State on Saturday night, in the Pan American Center. Tipoff is set for seven p.m.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu
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