Up to this point, New Mexico State hadn't done anything in conference play to make others in the WAC say, "Did you see what New Mexico State did lastnight?"
The Aggies did it on Saturday, beating Utah State 80-69, beating USU in Logan for the first time since 2006. NMSU has away wins at New Mexico and Utah State in the same season for the first time since 1994-95.
“It shows the resilience we have as a team and our ability to play in tough environments,” said Aggies senior forward Wendell McKines, who led the Aggies with 20 points and nine rebounds. “I just like the environment. The fans are really into it and it tests you as a player. It tests your poise as a player.”
NMSU swept the season series with USU for the first time since 2006, hanging 80 points on them in both games. NMSU pounded away in the paint in a 20-point win in Las Cruces. The Aggies saved that for the second half on Saturday, nailing 5-of-7 3s in the first half to hang around and survive a 15-0 Utah State run and USU making 7-12 from 3 in the first half. Bandja Sy was 3-3 from 3-point range in the first half, Hernst Laroche made one and Remi Barry made one.
What the 3s did was force Utah State to come out of zone. Teams in the WAC, especially Utah State this year, can not guard NMSU man to man.
"Eventually we have to start making some shots," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "They were all good looks and wide open. (Sy's) play was significant. With Bandja, Tyrone and Daniel, we need two of the three to play well and tonight that is what happened."
Defensively, the Aggies stuck with the zone and ultimately were too long, too strong and too athletic on the perimeter for Utah State.
"I didn't think they would shoot it that well for the whole game," Menzies said. "We just did a better job challenging shots that we didn't do in the first half. We mixed it up and tried to keep them a little off balance."
When the Aggies were in man, they were suffocating in the second half. Mullings on Brockeith Pane and Hernst Laroche on Preston Medlin. Medlin finished 6-15 and Pane was 1-7 with 2 points.
“(Pane) is a good facilitator,” Menzies said. “We did a good job of containing his offense. That was a big plus for us. He didn’t get out in transition and get easy buckets like he did the first time.”
And who could forget Laroche's flurry at the end of the game to put Utah State away. NMSU outscored Utah State 14-3 in the last 5:34. Laroche scored seven of his 16 points during that stretch, starting with a lay up after a tremendous block of Medlin's 3 at the elbow.
“That was huge,” McKInes said. “It showed (Laroche’s) focus and alertness. He was ready to get to the next play and he didn’t give up and that’s why he’s a senior and a leader on this team.”
Laroche got tangled with Kyisean Reed fighting off a ball screen at the top of the key. Laroche tripped, rolled over, hopped to his feet and elevated enough to not only block the 3, but strip it so he could retain possession, race down the floor and lay it in to give NMSU a 73-69 lead. He found Sy on a lob the next time down and also had a steal as NMSU's physicality looked like it took its toll on Utah State in the last 6 minutes.
New Mexico State hadn't had an impressive WAC win this year. Although Utah State is down, anytime you beat Stew Morrill in Logan, it's significant. The Aggies needed it from a standings, confidence and mental standpoint. USU literally looked like they wanted no part of the Aggies in the last three minutes. It showed a lot for the Aggies to regroup after losing a game at Thursday that they should have won, travel all day Friday and win a ESPN2 game against a nemesis. But as McKines said, it's all the same this time of year across the WAC.
"It's all mental at this point," McKines said. "Everyone in conference is tired. The conference doesn't have the best travel arrangements wherever you go. It's the February lull I call it but we were able to get the victory today."