Physical play leaves Bulldogs with bitter taste of defeat, 69-64

New Mexico State’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 ‘Dogs were down one point.

Instead of Bell hitting the layup, as he has in late-game situations, he clashed bodies with New Mexico State’s Hatila Passos and lost the ball. Bell immediately fouled Passos and held his eye walking to other side of the court.

“It was tough man,” Bell said. “I feel I got hit a little bit, but that’s how the game goes. A lot of things didn’t go our way tonight.”

The following offensive possession went a lot like the previous one for the ‘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 ‘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 Mexico’s senior guard Fred Peete leaped into the sky to contest the shot. Miller’s right hand flew backward after the shot, and the ball didn’t fall into the rim.

“I guess the ref didn’t see, but he smacked my hand,” Miller said

Coach Steve Cleveland said the no-calls just came at an inopportune time.

“Last two possessions – wow – just hard to believe,” Cleveland said. “You get two no-calls in the last six or seven seconds, that’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow, but it is what it is.”

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.

“At times in the game the refs really didn’t have too much control,” Miller said. “There was slapping and stuff going on, on both ends.”

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 State’s players.

Officials called a timeout and stopped the game for more than five minutes to review the altercation.

“It was a flagrant, it wasn’t a fight,” Cleveland said. “It was very physical. You take quite a pounding when you play in there with those bigs.”

The ‘Dogs turned the ball over a total of 19 times, and Cleveland said the physical game play may have played a role.

“Nineteen is probably too many, but it is a very physical game,” Cleveland said. “We got sloppy at times.”

New Mexico capitalized off of the ‘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 Bulldogs’ defense, they were able to get down in the post in the half.

The Aggies’ 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 State’s 4.

“Give New Mexico credit, they’re long and athletic and they are a good defensive team,” Cleveland said.

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