Courtesy of NMSU
LAS VEGAS, Nev. –New Mexico State used a powerful inside game with a pair of double-doubles to win its 12th straight and advance to the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament with a 57-53 semifinal win over CSU Bakersfield Friday night at the Orleans Arena.
NM State got 19 points and 14 rebounds from Tshilidzi Nephawe to go with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots from Pascal Siakam. Daniel Mullings chipped in 14 points for the Aggies as well.
The Aggies (22-10, 13-1), the regular season WAC Champions, built an 11-point lead with 8:06 to play, but the Roadrunners (14-19, 7-7) caught fire and used an 11-2 run over the next four minutes to pull within 52-50.
The teams exchanged scores, with Remi Barry nailing two free throws for the Aggies with 3:09 to play, followed by Bakersfield’s Aly Ahmed’s layup with 1:15 remaining to keep it at two, 54-52.
The Aggies answered the Ahmed layup with a Nephawe put back of a missed three with 33.3 second to play. Then after a missed 3-point attempt by the Runners, Mullings connected on one-of-two at the foul line with 15.2 seconds left .
“You’ve got to understand at the end of the day, Bakersfield is a good team that competes when it’s time to lace them up,” said NM State coach Marvin Menzies. “They did the same thing last year. We expected a battle, we expected a war, we expected two teams playing like there is no tomorrow and I’m happy that we got the win.”
The Runners got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 16-10 lead before NM State went on a 18-7 run to close out the first half with a 28-23 lead and never trail again.
Nephawe pulled the Aggies through the half, with 11 points and eight boards.
“Chili was a man tonight,” said Menzies. “Mulls (Mullings) was his normal self filling up the stat sheet.”
“We never panicked, we stayed together,” said Mullings afterward. “Chili got a big rebound late and Remi played big. The seniors helped hold it together.”
“I just wanted to come out and show what kind of player I am,” said Nephawe. “I just wanted to win the game and help my team. At the end of the day we just want to go dancing (the NCAA Tournament).”
Bakersfield got 22 points from Ahmed with six rebounds, while Kevin Mays added 10 points.
The Aggies, while starting slowly, shot 45 percent from the floor, and held the Runners to 39 percent. They also outrebounded CSUB 35-28.
With 12 straight wins, the Aggies have the third-longest active winning streak in Division I, as Duke lost to Notre Dame 74-64 on Saturday.
The Aggies advance to the championship game of the WAC Tournament for the fourth straight season. NM State is looking for its fourth consecutive tourney title and the fifth the in the last seasons.
NM State faces Seattle U., a 69-63 winner over Missouri-Kansas City in the other semifinal.