(This is the thirty-eighth installment of Bill Harty’s game recaps as part of The Mid Majority ninth season taking readers to mid-major college basketball games around the country. Visit midmajority.com to find out more about this group-sourced effort to spread the word about the many fine basketball programs around the country that are having success on and off the court while generally not having access to the resources brought to athletic programs by big-time college football. Bill will be recapping most Aggie home games, and the occasional road foray, for both The Mid Majority and bleedCrimson.net.)
Game 7, the first semifinal, of the WAC tournament pitted third seed New Mexico State, a 65-49 winner against Idaho in the tournament’s quarterfinals, against seventh seed Texas State. Texas State began the tournament with a defeat of Seattle, 68-56, in Tuesday’s first round; their quarterfinal was a big upset, defeating regular season co-champion and tournament second-seed Denver, 72-68, led by forward Joel Wright’s thirty-two point effort. The Aggies swept the Bobcats in their regular season meetings, first in Las Cruces, 78-67, and then in San Marcos, 86-72.
After the bands warmed up the crowd, and the national anthem was expertly delivered by the eight-year old pictured above, Aggie center Sim Bhullar won the game’s opening jump ball. Both teams started in man-to-man defenses. Defensively for the Aggies, Bhullar was guarding Bobcat forward Matt Staff, while Renaldo Dixon had the unenviable task of slowing down Wright. For the Bobcats, Deonte’ Jones was charged with covering Aggie shooting guard Daniel Mullings; initially, Wright was matched up with Bhullar. Dixon took the scoring lead for the Aggies, tallying ten of the Aggies’ first twenty-one points; Wright’s eight points kept his team close at 21-19 with about eight minutes left in the half.
During the under-eight-minute media timeout, the Aggies changed their defense to a zone. On each of their twelve possessions the rest of the half, the Aggies scored, either from the floor or the free throw line, closing the half outscoring the Bobcats 20-13. Offensively, the Aggies went to their inside players in the final eight minutes: wing Bandja Sy scored eight points, Bhullar made six, and center B. J. West, who came on after Dixon’s third foul, contributed a basket. At the half, New Mexico State led Texas State 41-32. Bobcats Staff (eight) and Wright (seven) led the TSU scoring. Dixon had twelve for the Aggies and Bhullar nine. The Aggies shot 54% from the floor, while the Bobcats only made 39% of their tries.
Jones began the second period with a superhoop for the Bobcats, getting them within six points of the Aggies. Aggie point guard K. C. Ross-Miller responded with a triple of his own, then two free throws to start a 10-0 Aggie run making the score 51-35 with about thirteen minutes to play. A couple of minutes later, Deonte’ Jones knocked down a #superhoop from the right wing, then another, starting a 10-2 run bringing the lead down to five. NMSU brought in guard Kevin Aronis for a #superhoop ; on the next three Aggie possessions forward Remi Barry next drove for a layup and dropped in two long jumpers to build the margin back to ten with 2 ½ minutes to play. After an exchange of free throws, Bhullar put back a missed shot with an emphatic dunk. After a few fouls and free throws, the game ended with the Aggies coming away with a 74-65 victory.
Joel Wright gave a superb effort for the Bobcats, scoring seventeen points and grabbing eleven rebounds, although he was not as effective against the larger Aggies as he had been the previous night against Denver; some of that may be because this was Texas State’s third game of the week. Forty-six of the Bobcats’ sixty-five points were scored by Wright, Jones (sixteen), and Staff (thirteen). The Aggies had four players with double figure scoring: Bhullar with fourteen points (and ten rebounds), Dixon with thirteen, Ross-Miller with twelve, and Barry with eleven. Bandja Sy added seven points and nine rebounds. Aggie Vision prepared a video recap of the contest.
Texas State’s season and WAC basketball tenure ended with this game; after this 11-22 season, the Bobcats will join the Sun Belt Conference beginning in the fall. New Mexico State will play in its second consecutive WAC Tournament final against the winner of the following game between fourth-seed Texas-Arlington and ninth-seed Texas-San Antonio.