By Albert Luna
New Mexico State needed to break out of a shooting slump and get back in the win column. At least they accomplished half of that goal on Thursday night. NMSU was able to hang on for a close 63-55 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Thursday night in the Pan American Center.
CSUB, who were tied for second in the WAC coming into the matchup, were fresh off a 91-69 victory over Utah Valley on Saturday night, which extended their winning streak to five. The Aggies were reeling from a 30-point loss at previously 24th-ranked Wichita State, 71-41, in what was their lowest scoring output of the season.
“We don’t like to look at our past games, we only focus on what is ahead of us,” says Head Coach Marvin Menzies.
The two teams met earlier in the season in California in what was arguably one of the most exciting games of the season for NMSU, as guard Ian Baker hit a game-winning three at the buzzer. This time, such late-game dramatics were not needed as offense was sorely lacking for most of the game.
The Aggies picked up right where they left off from Monday’s game, but that was not something they wanted. To start the game, the Aggies were only able to muster together two points. The first half did not prove much better.
Star power forward Pascal Siakam came out flat to begin the game by going 1-7 in the half and earning a season-low two points in the first half. Menzies says with Siakam getting most of the defense’s attention for most of the night, it was time for players such as Baker to step up.
“I thought Ian did a good job when we needed him tonight,” says Menzies. “Obviously he didn’t shoot the ball good, but none of us (Aggies) really did.”
The halftime score had the Aggies down by two, 25-23. Baker led the Aggies at break with nine points.
Halftime had a nice recognition for student-athletes. More than 200 student-athletes were recognized for their work in and out of the classroom by receiving medals from the WAC for maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA. Siakam was among the athletes and currently has the highest GPA of any player on the basketball team.
The second half did not start with any more energy than the first and the Aggies struggled to hit shots once again. After being down by as much as five midway through the contest, the Aggies got going, in large part due to a crowd-raising three-pointer by Baker.
“I just had to get a shot up, I threw it up, thank God it went in,” Baker says.
The Aggies also got some help from two late Braxton Huggins threes that led the comeback, going on an 8-0 scoring run by himself.
“They doubled Pascal, I was open, so I shot the ball,” Huggins says.
The Aggies, perhaps realizing they did not want their first conference home loss since 2012, finally got offensive, including two straight Tanveer Bhullar dunks.
“When we got into winning time and Braxton hit those shots, he did it with focus and precision,” Menzies says.
Siakam was held to a season-low and a career-low tying six points on just 1-12 shooting.
“Just an off night for me, it wasn’t anything that they did,” he says.
The star sophomore, however, got a career-high seven blocks, just one off the school record.
The Aggies will be in action again on Saturday night when they take on Seattle University at seven in what will be the final home game of the season.
Menzies says he hopes fans will come support their team before they go on the road for what will be their march to the NCAA Tournament.
“It will be nice to play for the fans and hopefully clinch the WAC title, especially with just three games left in the season,” Menzies says.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu
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