The Aggies were outworked in the first half and players and coaches all knew it. I asked Marvin Menzies if he was surprised by the lack of effort in the first half in a game against one of the teams ahead of NMSU in the standings, who had already beaten them. You would think they would be ready to play right? But not the case.
"It was a significant win because if we would have lost, we would have been at 4-4 and would have been at the bottom half of the conference so this was a key win," said Tyrone Watson, who scored a career high 17 and led NMSU with 10 rebounds.
Watson was 6-for-10 from the foul line, including two in the last 1:10 that put NMSU up two.
It looked like it was going to be more of the same in the second half. There was one play that happened in front of me where Paul Noonan dove for a loose ball. I think it was Gordo who he wrestled it free from on the floor, but the other four NMSU players were watching as Noonan threw a pass from his butt to Ryan Watkins, who was fouled on the other end. It put Boise up 46-41 as Boise went up eight with 14:52 left.
But then the Aggies showed up.
"At the end of the day, when we needed good possessions and we needed high percentage shots and we needed stops, we got them in winning time. We got them when we needed them and that's really what matters in the end. All of that other stuff we can learn and get better at," Menzies said.
I've written this before, but I think what makes the Aggies a contender is they are one of few teams in the WAC with a closer.
If it's a close game, Gillenwater can take over, as shown in the OT when he scored NMSU's first seven points and put the Aggies up for good.
"Troy was just a warrior tonight. I want to commend him on his ability to play within himself in the second half and not get frustrated," Menzies said. "When you need to win games, you need a go-to guy. You need somebody that they have to be concerned with."
Menzies said it was the Broncos' focus on Gillenwater that opened the way for career-high scoring nights from Watson and Hernst Laroche.
What stood out to me outside of the stat line (34 points, 12-20, 2-3 3-pt, 8 boards, 1 blk) was that he imposed his will on the game. Haven't really seen that this year, but it's a good sign for the stretch run.
"I guess that's just the way it kind of happened but I didn't want to lose so I was going to do whatever it takes to win," Gillenwater said.
He also did it with four fouls, after picking up his fourth with 8:27 left in regulation.
"It was tough because right after I picked up my fourth, I think Montreal scored two in a row on me. That's tough to get scored on like that. We switched and I guarded Watkins and I think Chile guarded Montreal so that's how I was able to stay without getting fouled out."
Gillenwater's responsibility in the second half and OT was extended to bringing the ball up the court as the Broncos pressure bothered NMSU all night.
"They were pressing us and Troy can handle it," Menzies said. "There was no reason for us to force the issue. We wanted to get a good possession in. Some of those guys played a lot of minutes but he has the ability to do that."
Gillenwater didn't get a touch on the Aggies' last possession of regulation. It didn't turn out to matter but Menzies said the idea was to get Gillenwater the ball but the Aggies rushed and Laroche ended up taking a jumper from the elbow with 3 seconds left.
"We had plenty of time," said Menzies, whose team got the ball back with 28 seconds left after La'Shard Anderson tied it. "I called a play but we didn't get it executed and we took the shot too early. It's supposed to be a last second shot but we went too early. They did a great job with the pressure. We were trying to get Troy in an Isolation situation but they jumped out and denied it. There is an option that we have if they do that but we didn't get to it."
There were times in the first half where it looked as if Laroche had never faced pressure before, leaving his feet or getting trapped. He committed four of his eight turnovers in the first half, but seemed more in control in the second half.
"That (8 turnovers) might be a record too," Menzies said. "A record that I wouldn't care to see again. They had a defensive gameplan for him. They were going to climb into him and guard him with different guys. They were going to make him work harder than he normally has to and they did a good job and forced those turnovers."
Tre Nichols came out of nowhere to score 18 for the Broncos, spelling La'Shard Anderson. Nichols scored 11 in the first half, finding the paint whenever he wanted against Laroche, Watson or the NMSU zone.
"He's a shooter but he kind of did out of the ordinary from what we expected from him," Watson said. "We just had to contain him because he was very hot. We had to stop him and really contest his shots because he was getting hot."
"The way our defense was designed, (Laroche) should have had more help. We were shading (Nichols) to one side but he probably gave him a little too much, which allowed that penetration to happen. That's something we can clean up but we played hard."
Boise State outrebounded NMSU by one in the first half, but the Aggies outrebounded an opponent for the first time in three games, finishing the game with a 44-34 edge on the boards.
"It was just an emphasis at halftime," said Gillenwater, who had eight boards. "They were beating us on the boards. We came upstairs and talked about it. They outhustled us and got to a lot of 50-50 balls that we should have got. They played extremely hard. You have to give them credit. They kind of caught us offguard a little bit."
The Aggies center duo of Hamidu Rahman and Chili Nephawe combined for 14 points and nine rebounds. It would be nice to see Rahman improve to those numbers on his own, but he made some strong moves on Thursday and played well in 26 minutes.
"It was something that has been lacking," Menzies said. "14 and 9 from that position, that's solid. We can deal with that. We can't deal with three rebounds or two, which is what we have been getting. That helps for the absence of Wendell."
Watson seemed to say that Thursday's first half was a wake up call. You would think it won't happen again on Saturday.
"It was really bizarre," Menzies said. "Our lack of intensity and it was collective. It was like, what's going on guys? We visited on it very heart to heart at the half. You have to give them all the credit. The game is 40 minutes, not 20 minutes. At the end of the day, you have to look at the 40 and at 40 we were tied and in 5 we were better and it's what we needed."