New Mexico State staves off Texas State, will play for WAC tourney crown tonight
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The key now for the New Mexico State men’s basketball is to appreciate what it’s accomplished, while understanding what is left to do.
Behind freshman center Sim Bhullar’s 14 points and 10 rebounds, third-seeded New Mexico State rolled into the Western Athletic Conference tournament final with a 74-65 victory over Texas State on Friday night.
Renaldo Dixon added 13 points and KC Ross-Miller had 12 for the Aggies (23-10), who tonight will face fourth-seeded Texas-Arlington (19-12), a 69-53 semifinal winner over ninth-seeded UT-San Antonio, with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
WAC tourney final: NMSU vs. Texas-Arlington, 9 p.m., ESPNU, 101.7 (joined in progress)
New Mexico State split two games with Texas-Arlington during the regular season. The Aggies lost in Arlington 68-47 to open WAC play, then won the rematch 69-66 last Saturday in Las Cruces in a regular-season finale with nothing on the line.
It is the fifth time in the last seven years that the Aggies are in the WAC tourney final, and fourth time in Menzies’ six seasons.
The Aggies won all of those games except one, an excruciating triple-overtime loss in Las Cruces to Boise State in 2008, Menzies’ first year. Those Broncos were lower seeded and lesser regarded, some feel, by the Aggies when they took the court.
“I went home and was in bed for three days,” Menzies said. “I was a wreck. You realize these opportunities don’t come often.”
The relevance is obvious, because when the Aggies awoke on Friday morning, they were the highest seed alive of the four semifinalists. Down went co-champions Louisiana Tech and Denver on Thursday night. “Think about trying to project we’d be playing Denver (Friday). That’d be a waste of time,” Menzies said.
Plus, New Mexico State had won twice by double digits over Texas State, the seventh seed, during the regular season.
But on Friday, the Bobcats and coach Doug Davalos (son of former New Mexico athletic director Rudy) weren’t waving the Aggies home.
Texas State stayed within punching distance throughout the second half, as close as 57-52 with 7:16 to play, but no closer.
Remi Barry scored 11 of NMSU’s 22 bench points, including two buckets in the ensuing possessions to reverse momentum.
“Our role guys are big,” said Aggie guard Daniel Mullings. “The thing is with them is that during the season in every practice, every shootaround, everybody goes 100 percent so in a game when their name is called, they’re ready.”
Mullings cited Barry and Renaldo Dixon, who added 13 points. Combining at the “4” spot normally occupied by senior Tyrone Watson, Dixon and Barry produced 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Watson, who missed seven games during the season when suspended in the wake of assault charges on a fellow NMSU student, missed his third consecutive game Friday with a sprained ankle.
Joel Wright had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Bobcats (12-22).
“Texas State did a great job,” said Menzies. “Davalos came in here in a subpar season, and fought like they were a ranked team.”