Lets just say it right off the bat: The New Mexico State Aggies played a very good game Thursday and got a very good win to show for it, a 78-60 victory over Louisiana Tech.
In an analysis, the Aggies got the victory for the following reasons:
• The team’s defense was simply awesome: The Aggies have forced the issue throughout the season on the defensive end of the floor, and routinely take the opposition out of its offensive game. Louisiana Tech, like many NMSU opponents this year, had trouble with the Aggies length, athleticism and size on the court. NMSU chased the Bulldogs off the 3-point line, and 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar was there to clog up the middle, five-feet-and-in to the basket. Louisiana Tech had no answer for the Aggies frontcourt, as many teams haven’t this year. NMSU is a defensive-oriented team — they have been the past two seasons — and it showed once again Thursday.
• Daniel Mullings: The Aggie shooting guard was player of the game, with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals. His top-rate athleticism was on display throughout the evening. Defensively, Mullings has always been solid, although he struggled on the offensive end of the court the three contests prior to Thursday. His performance against the Bulldogs could have very well been the No. 1 key to victory. He played like an All-Conference caliber performer.
• Figuring out the Bulldogs press: The Aggies had trouble with Louisiana Tech’s full-court press defense to start Thursday’s contest, and it led directly to the Bulldogs' 21-10 lead early on. But NMSU forced the issue and stopped turning the ball over — point guard Terrel de Rouen, who came off the bench after being sick a good portion of the week, helped in this respect. Their defense stepped up and Louisiana Tech stopped making shots — and, therefore, was unable to press off a made basket. A 23-3 Aggie run followed, and a 10-point NMSU deficit turned into a 10-point lead. Said head coach Marvin Menzies on how the Aggies adjusted: “We were dribbling into what we call coffin corner .... We kept dribbling in there .... put under pressure (by) long, athletic, quick guys that would take advantage of two good athletes against one. We got our reversals and started to attack up court. Passing and starting to advance it to the baseline more.”
• Give credit where credit is due: Tyrone Watson played a good game for the Aggies. He had 10 points and five rebounds in the first half, as NMSU dug out of its hole and took a 43-34 lead at intermission. He then played on a hurt ankle (a Louisiana Tech player rolled over it, and it didn’t look good initially) during the second half to finish with his second career double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds). Watson was utilized well, and played better within his role: A facilitator on offense, a ball handler against the press and he didn’t take many jump shots — most of his nine shot attempts came from close to the basket, and he made six of them. He was key, and a big reason the Aggies won in runaway fashion.
• Still would have liked to see more minutes for Kevin Aronis (he played 11) and Renaldo Dixon (who played 10). But a win’s a win, and the team responded well in a big game. Two weeks ago it was UTEP, last night it was Louisiana Tech. Historically, the Aggies have stepped up in big games late in the season under head coach Marvin Menzies. To the team's credit, it happened again Thursday.
Anything can happen with NMSU going into next week’s WAC Tournament.
Obviously the Aggies are totally capable of winning the whole thing. They’re also capable of not doing such, meaning I wouldn’t be surprised with any outcome.
Still, let the track record show: WAC Tournament titles for the program two of the past three years, which means a similar triumph this season would equal three NCAA Tournament trips in four years for the Aggies. It's usually an adventure getting there, although such results are also tough to argue with.
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