New Mexico Stateâ€™s physical play provided its fair share of frustrations on Saturday night, which led to wasted possessions and an ejection.
With just 18 seconds left in play, Kevin Bell delivered his signature crossover as he had many times this year. Again he left his defender behind him and drove to the rim fearlessly. It was a shot he had to make, seeing as the â€˜Dogs were down one point.
Instead of Bell hitting the layup, as he has in late-game situations, he clashed bodies with New Mexico Stateâ€™s Hatila Passos and lost the ball. Bell immediately fouled Passos and held his eye walking to other side of the court.
â€œIt was tough man,â€ Bell said. â€œI feel I got hit a little bit, but thatâ€™s how the game goes. A lot of things didnâ€™t go our way tonight.â€
The following offensive possession went a lot like the previous one for the â€˜Dogs. Bell drove to the rim, but instead of going up in traffic he kicked the ball out to an open Eddie Miller on the left wing of the court.
With the â€˜Dogs down three points, it was a must make shot for the senior guard from Pocomoke, Md.
Miller pulled up for the shot and New Mexicoâ€™s senior guard Fred Peete leaped into the sky to contest the shot. Millerâ€™s right hand flew backward after the shot, and the ball didnâ€™t fall into the rim.
â€œI guess the ref didnâ€™t see, but he smacked my hand,â€ Miller said
Coach Steve Cleveland said the no-calls just came at an inopportune time.
â€œLast two possessions â€“ wow â€“ just hard to believe,â€ Cleveland said. â€œYou get two no-calls in the last six or seven seconds, thatâ€™s kind of a bitter pill to swallow, but it is what it is.â€
Physical defense also took its mental toll on the team. As New Mexico State made up a 15-point defecit, the play of the game intensified.
Miller said both teams became increasingly physical.
â€œAt times in the game the refs really didnâ€™t have too much control,â€ Miller said. â€œThere was slapping and stuff going on, on both ends.â€
Ned Golubovic left the game in the first half after turning his ankle making a move on the perimeter. He came back into the game in the second half only to be ejected after a flagrant foul.
Cleveland said Golubovic closed his fist while trying to hook around one of New Mexico Stateâ€™s players.
Officials called a timeout and stopped the game for more than five minutes to review the altercation.
â€œIt was a flagrant, it wasnâ€™t a fight,â€ Cleveland said. â€œIt was very physical. You take quite a pounding when you play in there with those bigs.â€
The â€˜Dogs turned the ball over a total of 19 times, and Cleveland said the physical game play may have played a role.
â€œNineteen is probably too many, but it is a very physical game,â€ Cleveland said. â€œWe got sloppy at times.â€
New Mexico capitalized off of the â€˜Dogs mistakes to score 25 points off of turnovers.
The Aggies had a tough time getting the ball into the post early in the first half.
Once New Mexico State adjusted to the Bulldogsâ€™ defense, they were able to get down in the post in the half.
The Aggiesâ€™ size would eventually decide the fate of the game. New Mexico finished the game with 32 points in the paint. In the second half, New Mexico scored 20 points in the paint, compared to Fresno Stateâ€™s 4.
â€œGive New Mexico credit, theyâ€™re long and athletic and they are a good defensive team,” Cleveland said.
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