The New Mexico State men's basketball team used a late 16-3 run to defeat I-10 rival UTEP, 55-51. Junior guard Kevin Aronis scored a game-high 11 points to lead the Aggies (19-9, 12-3 WAC) to a season spilt with the Miners (14-12, 7-5 C-USA).
“It’s not a game that hurt either team because it was very spirited,” Floyd said. “You can see why you like playing that game in November because of how it rallies the fans. It carries your home crowds into December and January. It was great to see the people back in this arena. I didn’t see them the first two years I was here. They did a great job helping their team and willing the team in the final four and a half minutes of the game.”
Aronis scored all 11 points in the second half on 4-of-6 shooting from the field, including a 3-of-5 performance from the 3-point line. Senior forward Bandja Sy was also in double figures with 10 points.
Junior forward Renaldo Dixon had eight points and eight rebounds, and freshman center Sim Bhullar ended the night with six points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in a career-high 37 minutes of action. With his second rejection of the game, Bhullar set the NM State single-season blocked shots record. He now has 60 blocks in his debut season.
After UTEP posted its largest lead of the game, nine points, 48-39 with 7:06 to play, the Aggie defense turned up the pressure. NM State scored the next eight points to cut the advantage to one, 48-47, on a free throw from sophomore guard Daniel Mullings with 2:47 to play.
UTEP answered with a 3-pointer for a 51-47 lead at 2:22 and it would be the last points of the night for the Miners. Aronis responded with his third triple of the game and a jumper from the wing in consecutive possessions, and the Aggies captured a 52-51 lead with 1:12 left in regulation. It was the Aggies' first lead since the 12:06 mark.
After a missed UTEP 3-pointer, sophomore guard Terrel de Rouen hit two free throws with 24.5 seconds left to give NM State a 54-51 lead. The Aggie defense stayed strong on the next possession, and Bhullar grabbed the rebound on a missed 3-pointer. Sy sealed the win with a free throw with 1.7 seconds to play.
The Aggies had a 17-14 halftime lead after a defensive showdown in the first half. Sy led all scorers with five points in the first 20 minutes of action. Dixon added four points and six rebounds. The Aggies only shot 22.7 percent from the field (5-of-22) in the first half. The mark was a season-low number in a half for the Crimson and White.
NM State returned to WAC play at Denver, Saturday, March 2 at 4 p.m.
The Miners will play four more C-USA regular season games, beginning on Wednesday when they host Houston at 7 p.m.