By: Derek E. Gonzales
The New Mexico State men’s basketball team has officially hit a major bump in the road. For the first time since Jan. 12, 2012, the Aggies lost a Western Athletic Conference basketball game on the Pan American Center parquet floor.
The Aggies fell victim to another second-half scoring drought, this one lasting 6:21, while the Wolverines hit shot after shot to embark on a game-clinching 19-0 run to beat NMSU 84-72 Thursday night.
NMSU (23-5, 9-3 WAC) continue to show signs of fatigue, and whether it’s physical or mental, the team right now looks vulnerable with 14 days left until the WAC Tournament.
The Aggies shot 2 of 20 from 3-point territory in the second half and 27.8 percent from the field while being outscored 41-29. It didn’t help the cause that NMSU shot 7 of 16 from the line as well. After guard Jermaine Haley made a free throw to put the Aggies ahead 52-50, UVU hit three 3-pointers in the barrage and capped it off with a Kenneth Ogbe 3-pointer on the right thing to force Weir into a timeout.
By then, the life appeared to be taken out of not only the Pan American Center crowd, but out of a team that had a 22-game winning streak that now seems so far ago.
“We just got outplayed the whole game,” senior guard Ian Baker said, who led the Aggies with 21 points on the night. “It was just a poor defensive effort. I don’t know where our defense has been the last four or five games, but we need to find it quick if we plan on winning anything because if we don’t, we are going to have an early spring break.”
Utah Valley (12-15, 4-8 WAC) shot 55.1 percent from the field in the game and had four players score at least 14 points. The Wolverines have an impressive win against BYU (114-101), but also have a head-scratching loss to Chicago State in Orem. Nonetheless, NMSU Head Coach Paul Weir acknowledged that UVU played well.
“If it was just one thing, I would have hoped by now that we would have fixed it, but this has been a month in the making, and we have squeaked by in some games, but there is no way to sugarcoat it-we have been awful for a month,” a visibly upset Weir said post-game. “It’s unfortunate that this is the way the season’s gone given how it started with all the life and optimism.”
The chances of NMSU winning the conference regular season championship took a huge hit with the loss. The Aggies needed Cal-State Bakersfield to lose once in their final three games, while NMSU needed to win out. With the loss and the Bakersfield win tonight, NMSU will need to win their final two games of the regular season (vs. Seattle, vs. UTRGV), while Bakersfield needs to lose both games (vs. Grand Canyon, vs. Chicago State) for the tiebreaker to be the RPI, in which NMSU would most likely have the edge in.
For now, the Aggies will look to rebound on Saturday night, as they welcome in the Redhawks of Seattle for a 7 p.m. affair inside the Pan American Center.