NMSU's WAC title run two years ago included a win over Nevada in Reno. Since that game was a tournament game, I would probably put it ahead of Wednesday night. But it's close for the emotional factor. UNM had seven straight wins over the Aggies, Marvin Menzies was 1-7 against Steve Alford and the Aggies hadn't won at The Pit since 2002.
Even late in the game when they were trailing, the Lobos seemed stunned the Aggies were playing them close at their own place — something that hasn't happened the past four years. Tony Snelling was dribbling the ball like he was the playground, looking for an opening as if he couldn't believe the Aggies were playing them straight up and knowing that a drive to the paint wouldn't be easy.
Alford isn't known for playing zone defense, but even he dared the Aggies to shoot. Look, we know the Aggies aren't a shooting team, but you don't have to be to beat a zone. In the first half, Aggies players connected twice that I can remember on high low passes to a player cutting along the baseline. The NMSU guards can get into the paint on penetration against a zone and the Aggies have done a good job on the offensive boards with 11 against a physical Lobos team and scoring 17 points off 21 UNM turnovers.
Here are two things I learned about the Lobos moving toward their rematch at the Pan American Center Dec. 28. Tony Snell is really good (5-for-11, 3-6 3s, 18 points including big 3s that tied the game at 40-40 and put the Lobos up 44-42) and Drew Gordon isn't that great. Both UNM starters in the frontcourt were hampered by foul trouble, but Gordon didn't show too much skill around the basket or the ability to score from inside. Going into the game, I thought the front courts between the teams was a wash. After seeing the teams in person for the first time, I give the Aggies a clear advantage there and maybe move a slight edge to the Lobos guards because I don't think the Lobos will shoot as poorly again and Kendall Williams will not go 0-for-9.
Moving along to postgame comments from players and Marvin Menzies.
Wendell McKines is the difference to me. The guy was 0-7 in the first half, but he came out confident in the second half to get the Aggies even at 31 all. He was 5-for-7 in the second half. He hit a big 3 against the zone as well and remained the same player on the boards with nine rebounds. But just as important was his leadership. He pulled Chili Nephawe out of the group in the first half after a Nephawe technical that I still don't understand. Was it taunting or was if for defending his teammates in the scrum? In the second half, McKines ran from in front of the Lobos bench across the court to stop Watson from getting a potential tech after disputing a potential turnover.
"We just had to stay poised. This is a rivalry game so naturally we are going to play outside of ourselves but we have to stay in balance to not get techs from the refs. We had to stay emotionally stable. When I see guys, they trust me and know that they probably need to chill. We know we don't need a technical to hurt the team."
McKines on the win
"It's a really big victory for us, the city of Las Cruces and New Mexico State. It was for you Las Cruces"
McKines on facing UTEP on Saturday
"This roster is full of experience and we know we have to get ready for UTEP. We are going to enjoy this tonight."
McKines on being down just five at halftime
"I still felt like we had the momentum and we were playing at our pace and playing great defense. We missed free throws and weren't finishing things we normally finish. That happens on the road. Our main focus was staying consistent on the defensive end."
Bandja Sy has been a key player after two games for the Aggies. I think that is due to the fact that he got a lot of playing time last year but also that coming off the bench is his true role, along with Daniel Mullings.
"I don't really mind. I just try to do my best when I'm on the court and bring energy and make some plays. That's what coaches ask me to do."
Marvin Menzies on where Wednesday's win stacks up
"I'm still kind of soaking it in and getting ready for UTEP. It's a huge win for us. There is no question. When you can steal a win and steal it at The Pit from such a great program, it makes you feel good and re-affirms that we are doing things the right way."
The Aggies have now won a game in the 80s and one in the 60s. I think this team's true ability is somewhere in between. But it was a good sign when you play in the same league as Utah State.
"I'm glad we won but it's not the way we want to play. I want to get up and down and keep pressure on a team. We want to get runouts and steals and open court scoring. What Steve did by turning it into a half court game was to their advantage but we had some seniors and some guys who made big plays down the stretch."
On hanging around after the Lobos 15-1 run late in the first half to still trail by just five.
"I dont think they worried about the score as much as that they didn't defend the way they should have. I knew we would get scores. I didn't know how they would come. Bandja Sy had a great game. It was a team win"
On facing zone against Alford, a primarily man-to-man coach
"If we didn't play well against it, we knew they would ride it. He wants to play like we play in terms of playing man to man. Tonight I thought that the zone gave us some problems and slowed the game down. We weren't very efficient against it but we did get some offensive rebounds against it and executed against it when we needed to down the stretch."
On the difference between the UNM and UTEP rivalry
"I think there is a little more hatred in the UTEP rivalry and the UNM one has more history. I'm fully aware that we have four games every year that have nothing to do with the rest of the season."