LAS CRUCES – C.J. Bobbitt scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, leading NM State to a 59-56 win over UTEP in the Battle of I-10 on Tuesday night at the Pan American Center.
Bobbitt was 3-for-4 from the field, 2-for-3 from three-point range and 4-for-4 from the line over the final 20 minutes as the Aggies (5-4) handed the Miners (5-1) their first loss of the season and salvaged a split in the season series.
NM State outscored the Miners in the paint (32-22) and controlled the glass (36-28), overcoming a dominant performance by UTEP’s Bryson Williams, who scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half.
“Give those guys credit. They were a little tougher than us,” UTEP coach Rodney Terry said. “That’s hard for me to say in terms of the points in the paint. We weren’t as tough as we needed to be and didn’t have the resistance that we needed around the basket.”
Williams finished 9-for-13 from the floor, 4-for-6 from three-point range and 5-for-6 from the line while adding nine rebounds for the Miners. Williams, Souley Boum (11 points) and Daryl Edwards (nine) accounted for 47 of UTEP’s 56 points.
The Miners went up 16-14 on a three-pointer by Williams with 5:35 remaining in the period, but the Aggies answered with an 11-2 run to surge to a 25-18 advantage. The Miners trimmed the deficit to four (27-23) at the midway point.
UTEP tied it up twice early in the second half, 32-32 and 34-34, but was unable to regain the lead. Still, it went right down to the wire, as Wiliams and Lathon both missed three-pointers in the final seconds.
NM State matched its biggest lead of seven points (54-47) on a jumper by Bobbitt with 6:03 to go. The Miners chipped away with five straight points to get within two (54-52), and were within five over the final 5:12.
Trailing 57-56, the Miners intentionally fouled Bobbitt with 12 seconds left. He drained both shots before Williams and Lathon’s last-ditch attempts from long range were offline.
Johnny McCants scored 13 points and Jabari Rice added 10, leading the Aggies to a 25-4 edge in bench scoring.
The Miners held the Aggies’ leading scorer, Trevelin Queen, to two points on 1-for-8 shooting after he tallied 21 points in the first matchup between the teams in El Paso.
“We did a good job on Queen,” Terry said. “He is a guy that can really score the basketball. I thought our perimeter guys guarded really hard. We didn’t get the job done in the paint. They did a really nice job. McCants did a really good job. We needed to do a better job trying to be more physical with him inside.
UTEP shot 39.1 percent from the field, and NM State shot 38.9 percent. The Miners went 14-for-15 from the line but missed 17 of their 23 three-point tries.
“We got to the foul line. We made foul shots,” Terry said. “We had opportunities. We had wide open looks. We didn’t make some shots that we’re more than capable of making. To me, that was the disappointing part, that we didn’t match their toughness. We knew going into this game that it’s a toughness game, a tough mindset, and we have to be tough.”
The Miners will open a three-game homestand against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday (Dec. 7) at 7 p.m. The “Hoops for the Holidays” game will feature seasonal activities for the whole family. To purchase tickets, call 747-5234 or visit the ‘Defend the Don’ ticket website.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald Post