By Albert Luna
NMSU basketball has been dominating the Western Athletic Conference for years now since the conference landscape changed in 2011. This year seems to be no different. The Aggies defeated Seattle U on Saturday night, 70-57, in their home finale at the Pan American Center and, in the process, locked up the number one seed for the conference tournament next month in Las Vegas.
The Aggies came into the match riding a 19-9 record and a 10-1 conference record, needing just one win to clinch the regular season WAC championship, inching them closer to a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
The Aggies’ offense struggled for much of the first half of play to start off the game, essentially carrying over from the first half of Thursday’s game against CSU Bakersfield in which they struggled against the Roadrunners’ zone defense.
NMSU was able to benefit from the play of star Pascal Siakam, who had nine points and seven rebounds in the first half of play. However, the Aggies were not able to shake the dust off their offense and shot just 8-30 from the field and had seven turnovers in the process.
It seems this has been a trend for the better part of a week now, which could possibly be from their humbling loss last week at Wichita State. However, Head Coach Marvin Menzies does not think so.
“Sometimes our guys just play bad, they don’t have good games, that’s the way it goes,” he says.
The Aggies needed to cut down on turnovers and find a way to figure out the zone defense that bothered them in the first 20 minutes of play.
They figured it out in the final 20 minutes. The Aggies got things going in the right direction in large part due to Braxton Huggins’ big second half output. The sophomore scored 19 points and got to the line eight times in the half and was a huge boost the Aggies.
“I just went out and played my game, I don’t want to be viewed just as a three-point shooter, I can put the ball on the floor too,” Huggins says.
Siakam had a good second half too, while Ian Baker struggled for most of the night, going just 1-7 for his lowest amount of points (four) in the entire season. However, Siakam says he thinks it is in large part due to the lack of rest the Aggies have had lately.
“We played four games in seven days, and it is a good break that we have at this point in the season,” Siakam says.
The Aggies rode the hot-handed Huggins and outscored Seattle, 46-30, in the high-scoring second half.
The Aggies will next travel to Kansas City, Missouri, on Thursday, February 27, before they close up their season on March 5 at UTRGV.
Albert Luna may be reached at Aluna32@NMSU.edu
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