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Stevens: Lobos' Rally Falls Short 67-61 vs. NMSU
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  12/17/2013

New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – In The Pit

Tuesday: New Mexico State 67, New Mexico 61

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.

The New Mexico State Aggies tried to give it away.  The New Mexico Lobos almost took it away – almost.

A game in which the Aggies seemed to be turning into a surprisingly easy Pit win shifted into a nail-biter at the end. However, the scoreboard turned into an early Christmas present for all Aggies: NMSU 67, New Mexico 61.

It was a game not as close as that score – yet much closer.

The Lobos forced three turnovers in the final 1:14 and UNM freshman Cullen Neal was driving for a game-tying layup after the third Aggie miscue on an in-bounds pass.  Neal’s shot was swatted by Aggie Daniel Mullings and the Aggies, who led the entire game, finally cleaned up the win at the free-throw line.

Aggie KC Ross-Miller found the loose ball after Mullings’ block, was fouled, and hit two free shots to form a 63-59 Aggie lead.  UNM’s Arthur Edwards missed a trey with 23 seconds to play and Ross-Miller iced the win with two freebies at the :21 mark and two more with eight seconds to play.   

The Lobos were down 61-54 with1:03 to play, but had the ball looking for a tie in the closing seconds.   “They have some talent on that team,” said NMSU Coach Marvin Menzies.

The Lobos’ talent was slow to reach the Aggies’ level of intensity.  UNM fell down 23-5 in the first half, by 13 at the half 39-26, and by 15 at the 14:21 mark in the second half.

“We got off to a really bad start,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “We just couldn’t get it going early. My hats off to them.  They (NMSU) played terrific.  It was one of those games we didn’t play well and didn’t finish.”

The finish actually showed a lot of Lobo resolve.  When Mullings hit two free throws at the 1:03 mark the Aggies were up 61-54.  That lead was produced on a foul that followed a double dribble call against UNM’s Kendall Williams after an Aggie had poked the ball away.

“We didn’t come out with the right mindset,” said Bairstow.  “We managed to get it back to two points at the end but we didn’t finish it off.”

Bairstow led UNM with 25 points and Williams added 17 going 11-of-12 from the free-throw line and taking only five shots from the field.  “It was tough for him to get a lot of shots because we were going inside,” said Neal of Williams’ five shots. “We were having him distribute the ball (with Greenwood out).” Williams had three assists and five turnovers.

Alex Kirk had 11 points and 10 boards going 4-of-14 from the field.  Neal and Cleveland Thomas went 1-of-10 from the floor. Kirk and Bairstow each took 14 shots from the field. 

The Lobos did not make a 3-pointer in the game going 0-of-7 from long range. That’s the first time in 737 games – dating back to January of 1991 – that UNM did not make a trey.  UNM did not dress Hugh Greenwood, who is out with a wrist injury.

“We really did miss that (Greenwood’s leadership) today,” said Bairstow.   “But we needed to come out with a different mindset.  We need to come out with a killer instinct and a chip on our shoulder.”

The Aggies’ obviously played with a higher level of intensity than they did in their 79-70 loss to UNM in Las Cruces.   Ross-Miller scored 16 points, Mullings added 14 and Tshilidzi Nephawe had 14 points.   UNM won the board battle 36-35 and had 11 turnovers to ten for NMSU.

NMSU’s 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar had seven points, six boards and five blocked shots.  UNM shot 34.6 from the floor and NMSU shot 37.5 percent.  The Aggies went 7-of-17 from 3-point range but 0-of-5 in the second half.

“It’s tough to lose to those guys,” said Bairstow.  “It does hurt, but we have to learn from it and move forward.”  

Said Neal: “Our guys fought, but we could never get there.  That’s the first time we haven’t hit a three in 22 years.  I thought we played good defense in the second half. I didn’t think we played good defense in the first half.

“We had a chance at the end and we didn’t get it done and they did.”  

Second Half: New Mexico 35, New Mexico State 28

UNM came out of the halftime break down 13 and had cut into that gap by two points – 45-34 – going into the first media break of the second half at 15:18.  NMSU pushed its lead to 49-34, but the Lobos cut that to 49-38 at a NMSU timeout at 12:39. Both teams were playing hard and physical. UNM was shooting 44.4 percent in the second half and NMSU was at 38.5 percent.

At a break at 11:49, UNM had pulled to 51-42 behind two Bairstow buckets over 7-5 Bhullar.  The big Lobo added a free throw to make it 51-43.  The Lobos continued to inch closer.  Bairstow scored on a drive and Williams added one at the line: 53-46 at 9:32.  The Aggies inched away as Mullings scored an old fashion trey: 56-46. Williams scored on a drive: 56-48 going under the eight-minute mark.

It was a key stretch for UNM.  They were running pretty good offense and extending the pressure on the defensive end.  The Aggies had thrown up a couple of off-balanced shots and had quit attacking the rim.

At 6:40, UNM’s Williams had pushed in four free throws: 56-52. The Pit was getting nasty again. The Aggies forced up another bad shot. The Aggie offense that had been disciplined for 30 minutes had changed its look. The Aggies lost track of the clock and again launched a poor shot. Bhullar got a block on the other end and the Aggies finally got a high-percentage shot: a Bhullar dunk that made the count 58-52 with 3:29 to go.

There was still plenty of time for the Lobo. Both teams could use a 3-pointer.  NMSU was 0-3 and UNM was 0-of-3. 

Bhullar hit a free throw and the Aggies got a stop and an offensive board.  NMSU, in possession, called time at 1:16 guarding a 59-54 lead.  The Aggies came out of their huddle and turned it over in two seconds off a Bhullar pass.  UNM called time at 1:14.  

It was a huge break for UNM.  They gave it back on a double-dribble call against Williams.  UNM fouled Mullings at 1:03.  He hit two: 61-54.  The Aggies fouled Williams on a trey at 57.9. The senior made it 61-57.  

Bhullar then turned it over on the in-bounds.  Bairstow hit a 12 footer on the baseline and UNM was down 61-59 with 51 seconds to play. The Lobos had forced a crack. The Aggies – again – turned it over on the in-bounds.  UNM’s Neal raced for a layup, but got blocked at the rim.  NMSU’s Ross-Miller finished the win for the Aggies at the line.

First Half:  New Mexico State 39, New Mexico State 26

It was a good start for the visitors from Cruces. Not so good for the Lobos. Actually, it was a nightmare start, but there was good news in falling behind the Aggies 23-5.  It had to get better for the Lobos.  It did.

The Aggies came out pounding the ball inside and – scoring.  The Lobos had no rhythm on offense early and fell into a 10-2 hole.  The Aggies took a 12-2 lead into the first media break at 15:40.  UNM was shooting 25 percent at that mark with four turnovers.  NMSU was hitting at a 50 percent clip with no turnovers.

The Aggies continued to play well. NMSU went .up 23-5 before UNM threw out a quick run to cut it to 23-11 at the 11:;37 media break. A Kirk head fake and a layup made it 23-13.    Bairstow put a move on near the baseline and pushed in a layup to make the score 24-17.  The Aggies got a trey and Kirk got a tip to make it 29-19 at the 6:54 mark, a pause created by a NMSU timeout.  The Aggies were still playing well, but the Lobos had joined the party

At the 6:18 break, it was still 29-19. UNM had warmed up to 33.3 percent shooting and the Aggies slipped to 45 percent.  UNM had seven turnovers to two for NMSU. NMSU was 5-of-6 from 3-point range and UNM was 0-of-1.

The Aggies got another trey from Kevin Aronis followed by a Bairstow dunk following a Neal miss on a drive.  At 3:46, NMSU was up 32-21.  The Aggies massaged that lead into a 39-26 halftime count. 

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