By Derek Gonzales
New Mexico State came into Saturday’s game against Utah Valley in an all too familiar place: atop the conference standings. After Thursday’s 70-50 win over Grand Canyon, the Aggies faced the Wolverines with a chance to keep their grip on sole possession of first place for at least another weekend, and did just that with a 98-74 win Saturday night in the Pan American Center.
The Aggies set the tone immediately, making their first five shots from the field while jumping out to an 11-0 lead.
“We wanted make sure we started the game on a good note, getting stops and getting out in transition,” says star sophomore Pascal Siakam, who began the game with nine points in the first five minutes.
Utah Valley decided to begin the game not sending multiple defenders to Siakam when he would receive the ball, and he capitalized. It was not until under the 15:45 mark in the first half where UVU decided to send double teams at the Aggies’ post players, but the hole had already been dug, down nine at the under-16 media timeout.
Utah Valley switched to a zone after the first media timeout, but that did not slow the Aggie offense. The Aggie guards, especially Jalyn Pennie, feasted off the soft zone, knocking down open looks as the lead continued to increase. Utah Valley switched up their zone with seven minutes left in the first half, applying more pressure to Aggie guards, but reopening one-on-one matchups for Siakam and Wilkins.
Pennie was huge in helping the game get out of hand, scoring all 16 of his points in the opening half.
The score at halftime was 57-32, and it saw the Aggies shoot 61 percent from the field, and knock down six of their nine attempts from behind the arc in the half. They also dominated the backboards, holding a 23-13 lead in that department. UVU shot only 33 percent from the field, and only had two points in the paint.
The second half saw Utah Valley applying full court pressure in an attempt to create more possessions, but it was to no avail. Utah Valley scored 10 points unanswered during a stretch in the early stages of the half, trimming the lead down to 20, but with their aggressiveness in the full court, picked up their seventh team foul only seven minutes into the half.
That allowed NMSU to generate offense at the line, and the Wolverines were unable to threaten again, as the Aggies ended the 10-0 run with two free throws and a Siakam jumper. Siakam finished off another stellar performance with 27 points on 11-18 shooting. The Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award finalist also came up with 11 rebounds and dished out four assists. As a team, New Mexico State finished the game shooting 55.4 percent from the field, including eight conversions from three-point territory in 15 attempts.
“The offense was really clicking tonight, we got out and really ran at a high pace tonight, and took advantage of our speed game,” Aggies Head Coach Marvin Menzies said postgame.
The 98 points were a season high for the Aggies, and it came in a game where they only turned the ball over five times, even with the increased number of possessions and constant full-court pressure from Utah Valley.
“One of the things we have identified (as a point of emphasis as the team heads into the second half of WAC play) is taking care of the ball, and we only had 5 turnovers tonight, and I was happy for that,” says Menzies.
Derek Gonzales may be reached at email@example.com
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