By: Derek E. Gonzales
Long Beach State has had one of the most brutal nine-game stretches to begin a season to recent college basketball history, and the final stop of the nine-game road trip that was 23,000 miles long ended in the same result as the first eight.
The Aggies defeated LBSU 93-85 for their fourth-straight win Saturday night at the Pan American Center for the Aggies’ second-consecutive win against a team they lost to last season.
LBSU has played Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, Washington, and Kansas already this season, so the 49ers came into Las Cruces eager to capitalize on a non-conference road game against a non-power five school, but were unable to do so.
NMSU (7-2) got off to a slow start, as LBSU (1-9) hit three three-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game to take a 15-9 lead at the 13:00 mark in the first half. The Aggies also struggled with turnovers early on in the first half, having four in the first 10 minutes of the half.
Shooting was again an issue for the Aggies early, as the team was shooting just 33 percent when Weir was forced to call a timeout as the 49er lead swelled up to nine with 7:37 left in the first half. Chuha hit a short corner jumper off an assist from Jermaine Haley, and Jemerrio Jones hit a lay-up inside to cut the lead to five immediately after the time-out. NMSU got LBSU to commit their seventh team foul the possession after, and Baker capitalized on the one-and-one situation, and followed it up with an and-one drive to put the Aggies within two at 29-27.
The run continued with an elbow jumper by Johnathan Wilkins and three Aggie free throws. The 14-2 run turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point lead for the Aggies. At the half, NMSU led 41-36, with Sidy N’Dir having led the Aggies with nine points, followed by Braxton Huggins with eight and Ian Baker with seven. NMSU made seven more free throws (13-of-14) than LBSU (6-of-6), and it was the difference in the first half, as the 49ers had one more made field goal than the Aggies. Junior guard Justin Bibbens had ten points for LBSU at the half, who were also outrebounding NMSU 20-16.
The Aggies came out of the halftime break shooting the lights out, led by Huggins. Huggins had eight of the Aggies 17 points in the first 5:52 of the second half, as NMSU stretched their five-point halftime lead into 13 at 58-45 with a N’Dir wide-open three in front of the Aggie bench, forcing LBSU head coach Dan Monson into a timeout.
“Offensively, we didn’t do much wrong,” said Weir. “We did not finish the game how I liked, but we fought hard and got through it. These two games (Air Force) were ones we lost last year, so winning them this year is huge.”
Huggins had an 1:48 stretch midway through the second half where he scored all eight points on an NMSU 8-0 run to put the Aggies comfortably ahead with a 14-point lead.
Huggins finished the game with 26 points (5-of-11 from three, 7-of-8 FT), Chuha had 19, and N’Dir had 18. As a team, NMSU shot 31-of-37 from the free throw line, compared to a 13-of-20 performance for the 49ers. NMSU shot 55.6 percent in the second half after shooting 44.4 in the first.
NMSU will take a week off before welcoming in I-25 rival New Mexico into the Pan American Center December 10 at 7 p.m. The unveiling of two banners will happen during the game, and the game is being dubbed Lou Henson Night in honor of the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer who took NMSU to the Final Four in 1970 en route to 779 career wins.