ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Even though New Mexico State jumped out to an early 18-point lead, Aggies coach Marvin Menzies knew it was going to take a big play at the end to secure a win against rival New Mexico.
That’s exactly what he got when Renaldo Dixon batted away a fastbreak layup attempt with 34 seconds remaining that would have tied it.
Instead, New Mexico State held on for a 67-61 victory over the Lobos.
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“There’s got to be a player that does something special to win a game like this,” Menzies said.
The Aggies (9-5) had just seen a 61-54 lead with 1:03 left whither to 61-59 when Arthur Edwards snared an errant pass and headed toward the Lobos’ end. He dished it off to Cullen Neal, who drove to the basket.
“I knew he was going to go challenge,” Menzies said. “I saw him running for it and timing it up. I was thinking just don’t foul him, just don’t foul him, just don’t foul him. And there was a man in between him, he actually came from behind his own teammate to make the block. So that makes it even more fantastic.”
That was the game’s key play, said New Mexico coach Craig Neal.
“You’re down two with 40 seconds to go with a chance to tie and we didn’t tie it,” he said. “And they finished the game.”
K.C. Ross-Miller, who led New Mexico State with 16 points, went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 30 seconds to hold off the Lobos (7-3).
Tshilidzi Nephawe and Daniel Mullings each scored 14 for New Mexico State and Sim Bhullar had five blocks, including two in the final two minutes.
Cameron Bairstow scored 25 for New Mexico and Alex Kirk had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
New Mexico State, which ended a four-game losing streak to the Lobos, jumped out to an early 23-5 lead, hitting four of their seven first-half 3-pointers in the opening surge.
“We wanted to throw the first punch when the ball was tipped up,” Menzies said. “We felt like they were a little wounded and we needed to do what we can.”
New Mexico played without starting point guard Hugh Greenwood, who has a right wrist injury. And starting off guard Cleveland Thomas was in a face mask but played despite a severely broken nose that he suffered in practice Monday.
“We weren’t playing at a very good pace and we looked a little skittish,” coach Neal said. “That might not be the right word but we looked a little skittish. We didn’t play with great Pace. We didn’t get into anything.”
And falling behind so early didn’t help matters, he said, especially since the Lobos failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time in 737 games, finishing 0 of 7.
“They got out on us 23-5 and once you do that, you’ve got an uphill battle,” coach Neal said.
The win gave the Aggies a split on the season series with New Mexico.
“Obviously it’s a great win for our program,” Menzies said. “This is not just another win. It’s a big win.”