Ian Baker scored five of his game-high 20 points during an 11-0 run midway through the first half, leading NM State to a 79-68 victory at UTEP on Tuesday.
The Aggies (9-2) won their seventh straight game and handed the Miners (2-6) their fifth consecutive defeat.
“They were better than us tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought we had a real problem stopping them. It seemed like when we did stop them, they offensive tipped it back in. We had a really poor time converting in the open floor … a lot of mistakes. Three on two, two on one, or drive baseline, kick, fumble it out of bounds and in these kinds of games, you cannot make mistakes.”
UTEP was down 9-2 early, but pulled within one (15-14) on a jumper by Omega Harris with 11:57 remaining in the half before Jermaine Haley started the 11-0 spurt with a three-pointer. By the time it ended, the Miners were down 26-14 and they trailed by double digits most of the remainder of the game.
The deficit reached 20 five minutes into the second half and a late rally – triggered by freshman Tim Cameron with a pair of three-point plays – came up short.
The Aggies shot 62.5 percent in the first half and 54.9 percent on the night, and outrebounded the Miners 38-28.
“They looked more physical, stronger, quicker than we did on the interior,” Floyd said. “They just manhandled us on the inside. High low passes in the first half which we prepared for all week long, [we] just were slow getting to the ball, slow recovering and they did a really nice job of executing.”
Jemarrio Jones had 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench for NMSU, and Eli Chuha added 11 points and eight rebounds.
“Jemarrio Jones is a very good player. He’s a new guy for them who I think is going to be a terrific, terrific talent,” Floyd said. “Chuha, I thought was quicker and more explosive than our guys around the basket. He did a really nice job. Baker had another good game. He has played well against us last year and this year.”
Harris led the Miners with 18 points, and Dominic Artis scored 15 points with nine assists.
“Omega and D.A. are guys that we obviously have to rely on to be not good, but great for the club this year,” Floyd said. “We have struggled trying to find a third scorer. We have struggled trying to find a fourth scorer. It just has not been the same, and that’s pretty much what we lost in the offseason and we have not been able to play with any kind of effectiveness offensively because it’s a real struggle for our guys to make goals. I think over the long haul we’re going to have to be able to get teams in the 50’s and 60’s to win, but that’s very, very difficult when you give up 62 percent in the first half which we did tonight.”
The Miners shot 55.2 percent in the second half in outscoring the Aggies 43-38, but the damage was done on the opposite end of the floor in the first 20 minutes. Over the last three games the Miners have given up 79, 78 and 79 points, and all three of their opponents shot over 50 percent.
“We have got to defend better,” Floyd said. “At the end of the day, I’m so sick of giving up 62 percent, 73 percent from the three-point line in a half. It’s very difficult to catch up. It puts a lot of pressure on a team that is void of scoring to go down and score every possession without turning it over. That part of it we can attempt to control, and we are going to do that.”
The Miners will continue their four-game homestand against Northern Arizona on Saturday at 7 p.m.