I think the Aggies got a bad call when Chili Nephawe was whistled for a foul with five seconds left when it looked like he had position against Chris Washburn.
But 20 turnovers for 22 UTEP points stood out just as much as a foul call in that situation. NMSU had their way in the first half, got into the paint with Watson or Ross-Miller off the dribble, but there was a five minute scoreless streak that cost them their lead.
Daniel Mullings had his jaw wired shut on Tuesday. I believe the injury that fractured the jaw was suffered at Niagara, and then his face was cut against Louisiana. Menzies said he can play through it for the next four weeks, but his minutes should be monitored. He played 27 minutes on Wednesday. Here is the story.
EL PASO — For the second straight year, the New Mexico State men’s basketball team couldn’t close UTEP out at the Don Haskins Center.
NMSU led the rival Miners by four with 1:34 to play, but a potential game-winning Daniel Mullings 3 at the horn rimmed out and UTEP beat the Aggies 55-54 on Wednesday in El Paso.
“We lost by one and we had 20 turnovers,” Aggies senior Tyrone Watson said. “If you do the math and you minus that by 10 we probably win by seven.”
Mullings played 27 minutes despite having his jaw wired shut on Tuesday in addition to stitches remaining in his face from a fall against Louisiana. He hit a long two at the end of the first half to give NMSU a four-point edge, but his 3 from the top of the key at the final horn hit the front rim, bounced off the backboard and again hit the rim before rolling out.
“That shot at the end, I put my whole heart into that ball as he shot it,” Watson said. “It was just off.”
Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies said Mullings’ jaw will remain wired closed for four weeks but the sophomore guard can still play through that time.
But it wasn’t Mullings’ heroic effort that stood out. It was NMSU’s 20 turnovers that cost the Aggies (3-4) a winnable game on the road.
“We lost the game with turnovers,” Menzies said. “They caused some of them.”
The Aggies went nearly five minutes late in the second half without scoring, but an 8-2 flurry edged the Aggies to the brink of their first win at UTEP since 2009. NMSU went up 54-50 with 1:34 to play as Mullings put back a Watson air ball as the shot clock expired.
NMSU switched to a 2-3 zone for the first time the next time down but John Bohannon found an opening and converted a three-point play to close the Miners to within one with 27.2 seconds left.
“They were doing the same stuff the whole game, there was just missed opportunities,” Watson said. “It was a rough five minutes. We were playing defense but the offense was kind of off but we had our chances at the end of the game.”
The Aggies turned the ball over on their next two possessions. The second turnover was Watson’s fourth as he threw the inbound pass to himself off Julian Washburn’s back, dribbled to half court but was called for double dribble.
“Turnovers are an issue and I’m going to take some blame for that too,” Watson said. “I had a handful today. I was trying to make some plays, which I thought were there which probably were not there.”
Chris Washburn provided the final points, converting a one-and-one with 5.9 seconds left to play.
NMSU center Tshilidzi Nephawe was called for the foul that sent Washburn to the line, as Newphawe appeared to have position on the block for a defensive rebound on a Bohannon miss.
“The officiating is what it is,” Menzies said. “It (fouls) was at 7-2 at one point. I thought if it was a close game they could manage the game. I’m not too happy with the officiating but it’s the road.”
UTEP head coach Tim Floyd had the advantage at that point as the Miners still had two fouls to give. Jacques Streeter used one of them to stop Mullings at halfcourt with two seconds left, plenty of time for Mullings to take the inbounds play, dribble to his left and get a decent look.
Mullings finished with seven points, six rebounds, two assists and four steals. Watson had 13 points, all in the first half.
Game stats were even up and down the board between two rivals starving for a quality win, with the exception of one glaring number.
NMSU had 20 turnovers and UTEP had 13. The Miners turned those turnovers into 22 points.
“I’m proud of the guys with their effort but when you take steps to get better, you want results,” Menzies said. “We weren’t going to get results because we didn’t get better tonight.”