KC Ross Miller scored 26 points and Daniel Mullings chipped in with 17 as NM State beat UTEP for the second time in nine days, 77-68, on Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center. Head coach Tim Floyd and Miners Cedrick Lang and Justin Crosgile commented on the loss.
The Miners (3-2) sorely missed McKenzie Moore, who wasn’t in the arena while recovering from a concussion. His status is unknown for the Battle 4 Atlantis next week (Nov. 28-30) in the Bahamas.
NM State (5-1) bolted to a 7-0 lead in the first two and a half minutes. The Miners rallied to take a three-point lead (26-23) in the final three minutes of the half. But the Aggies closed the period with a 10-2 run, and were in control for most of the second half.
“Their guards dominated the game much like they did over in Las Cruces,” Floyd said. “Ross Miller had a career game. He was terrific. I think he had made one three going into tonight, and buried several on us. Mullings did a nice job again.”
With Miller (6-for-10 from the field, 3-for-4 from outside) and Mullings (5-for-13, 1-for-3) hitting shots and the Aggies’ big men controlling the paint, the Miners had a rough night. UTEP had to finish with a flurry to get to 43 percent shooting and the Miners had 14 turnovers, leading to 16 points for NMSU.
“You see all the size, and the size comes into play on the defensive end. That’s where those big guys really have their impact,” Floyd said. “They change shots, they take a lot of actions away from you that you want to run because you’re aware of the presence that they’ve got on the backline. And then they play through those guards offensively. They get it out and those guys are great in transition.
“I thought we turned it over at really inopportune times and made some really dumb plays with a chance to get back in it. Two on ones, we’d try to throw a lob and throw it out of bounds. We guard for 30 seconds and decide to foul with five seconds. Plays you can’t make.”
After the Miners pulled to within three points (33-30) on a jumper by Vince Hunter with 19:38 to play, NMSU scored the next five points and kept UTEP at arm’s length the rest of the way.
Cedrick Lang posted his second career double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He was 7-for-10 from the line. His 21 points were one shy of his career high.
The Miners outrebounded the Aggies 33-30, but it wasn’t enough.
“They were better than us in all areas, and the only positive was we rebounded a little better and got some solid play out of Justin Crosgile [11 points] and Lang,” Floyd said. “We opened the game like we’d never seen a zone offense and a zone defense. We turned it over back-to-back times when our big guy traveled and threw the ball out of bounds, and we came down and let Bhullar have a layup. We finally settled in a little bit against the zone and didn’t really get a lot of attack in us until late. I felt like we really missed McKenzie Moore tonight.”
The Miners will take on Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thanksgiving night at 7:30 p.m. MT. NBC Sports Network will have national television coverage.
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