ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies was expecting a better performance from his team against New Mexico.
“It’s just not a good feeling when you lose to a rival,” Menzies said. “And it’s especially not a good feeling when you don’t give them your best game. That’s a combination of them taking us out of some of the things that we do and also us not being very smart tonight.”
Alex Kirk scored seven of his 15 points in an early New Mexico run to help the 17th-ranked Lobos beat their downstate rivals 73-58 on Saturday.
The Aggies (5-5) played without starting center Tshilidzi Nephawe, who had surgery recently to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist. That left freshman Sim Bhullar in the middle and made for a tough matchup with the 7-foot Kirk, who equaled his career high with five blocks.
“He won the matchup tonight,” Menzies said.
New Mexico (11-0) intentionally moved Kirk off the block to give him some space away from Bhullar.
“With the big fella they have, we just pulled (Kirk) away from the basket and let him shoot shots because he makes shots,” Lobos coach Steve Alford said.
Bhullar finished with nine points but only two rebounds.
Daniel Mullings led the Aggies (5-5) with 14 points but he was the only New Mexico State player in double figures. Tyrone Watson, the team’s second-leading scorer, missed all five of his shots from the field and finished with four points and 11 rebounds. Fellow senior Bandja Sy was 2 for 14.
“Unfortunately, our upper classmen were very off tonight,” Menzies said. “There’s no denying that they’re better players than 2 for 19 between the two seniors.”
Alford credited Chad Adams with doing the job defensively on Watson.
“I thought a big key for us was going to be Watson, and Watson didn’t get a field goal,” Alford said. “And a lot of that was Chad Adams.”
Adams finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Kendall Williams had 15 points as well a career-high eight rebounds and seven assists for New Mexico.
The Lobos blocked a season-high 11 shots and outrebounded taller New Mexico State by four. Still, there were some positive aspects to the game for the Aggies, Menzies said, noting that they had only eight turnovers and went 16 for 19 from the foul line.
“We drilled our guys this week: `We’ve got to take care of the ball, we’ve got to take care of the ball,'” he said. “And lo and behold, we took care of the ball. That was about it. Shot the free throws well.
That was two areas that we have struggled in so it was good to see that. Young teams like this, you want to get growth and you want to get development.”
Seven of Kirk’s points came during a decisive 11-2 run midway through the first half that turned a 17-14 lead into a 28-16 advantage.
The Aggies shot just 32.8 percent from the field. New Mexico State went 8 for 30 in the second half and made four of 16 3-pointers.
The Lobos turned it over a season-low six times and shot 7 of 13 on 3-pointers while also going 26 for 35 from the foul line.