By Albert Luna
The New Mexico State Aggies took on the Robert Morris Colonials on Tuesday night in the Pan American Center.
This was the second edition in a one-day double header that was headlined by both the Aggie men and women’s basketball teams. The Lady Aggies defeated the Southern Utah Thunderbirds just prior to the men’s game, 74-60.
On the men’s side of things, the Aggies were coming into the contest with a 3-1 record after defeating Mississippi Valley State on Saturday night. The Colonials came into the game looking for their first win of the season. This matchup marked the faceoff of two NCAA tournament teams from one year ago as well.
The Aggies started off the game very sloppily, with three straight possessions resulting in three Aggie turnovers early. Tanveer Bhullar put the Aggies in the scoring column off a feed from Matt Taylor. However, turnovers would be the central theme early and often, as they had six in total just in the first five minutes of play.
A timeout with 15:29 remaining put the Aggies down 8-4. Despite the turnovers, the Colonials were unable to take advantage of the increase in possessions. One early bright spot for the Aggies was the return of Jonathon Wilkins. Wilkins was the second sub off the bench for NM State after it was announced earlier today he’d received a waiver to make him eligible to play after being misadvised for some course work earlier in the year.
Wilkins, to his credit, came in and worked his way back into the thick of things by scoring two quick buckets and giving the Aggies a boost offensively.
“It was great to have Jonathon out there with us today because he’s our teammate and we know how much he wanted to play,” says teammate Pascal Siakam. “He was really excited this morning at practice.”
However, for both teams, the majority of the game was an offensive struggle. The Aggies did have early success from three-point land, hitting a respectable 42.7 percent early while going 3-7. Robert Morris hit more from that distance but also took more, hitting about 30 percent for the first half of play. NMSU took a slight edge into the half, 32-31.
The second half started in stark contrast to its predecessor. The Aggies and Colonials both came out firing on offense. For the Aggies, that essentially meant Siakam. The Cameroon native was excellent to begin the game and showing once more why he is deserving of a preseason MVP honor.
At one point in the second half, Siakam accounted for half of NMSU’s total points (21) as the Aggies led, 42-39. Siakam went on to finish with a career-high 35 points along with 13 rebounds. The 6’9’’ junior got some much-needed help as the half developed with teammates Braxton Huggins, who quietly had a second team-leading scoring of 11 points with the help of three triples from him going down.
Huggins also added a nice dribble drive bucket to give the Aggies the lead with about six minutes remaining in the game and finished the game with 15 points.
“Braxton stepped up and hit shots,” says Coach Marvin Menzies. “He still needs to learn some things but he played well.”
A big blow to the Aggies’ campaign was Siakam getting himself into foul trouble late in game, but Menzies simply could not have him on the bench. The Colonials, to their credit, again found their way back in the game as the Aggies blew a five-point lead with under two minutes remaining. Despite holding a three-point lead, the Aggies allowed a late Robert Morris three-pointer with under 10 seconds to go to tie things up, subsequently sending the game into overtime.
In the overtime, the Aggies came out attacking, with Ian Baker and Pascal Siakam coming up big early in the extra period for the Aggies. A timeout with three minutes to play had NMSU up by five and the Aggies did not look back from there, eventually winning the contest with a final score of 81-71. NM State outscored their opponent in the overtime 14-4.
“I’m happy to always get a win but I just think that we should have played better, so I am going to take this with a bit of realism,” Menzies said.
Looking ahead, the 4-1 Aggies will take the show on the road for the first time this season as they travel up to Colorado to play Air Force.
“We definitely need to get our rest and make sure we’re ready to play,” says Huggins.
Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for high noon.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu
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