New Mexico State (11-8, 5-2) played a brilliant second half, and Utah State (14-2, 5-1) played something less than that in a 64-51 loss at the Pan-American Center, the team's first defeat since November. The Aggies that is, the ones wearing crimson had an exhibition of dunks, putbacks and blocks in a highlight-reel win that coach Marvin Menzies later called their best game of the year.
For the visitors, they can't shake the memory free quickly enough. Utah State managed to close a 21-point lead to the teens by the end, but the game easily qualified as its worst.
It began as a cold shooting night. Utah State struggled to run its offense against 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar, who ended up with five blocks. The roadblock in the middle exacerbated some shaky shooting touch, and USU shot only 8 for 31 from the field for a season-low 18 points at half.
That by itself would've been overcomeable, as NMSU led by only five at halftime. But then Utah State's defense caved with stellar midrange shooting from the home team, followed by dunks and layups galore. Bandja Sy was the main culprit, finishing with a team-high 16 points.
A 15-4 run in the second half spanning six minutes sealed it up for New Mexico State. And USU, which entered the game undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference, looked absolutely flummoxed.
"They just out-physicaled us," said Jarred Shaw, who had 11 points and was tasked with going against the bulky Bhullar. "They got the momentum going. They put us back in the place we need to be in: not too big-headed because we were 14-1."
Utah State looked like anything but a 14-1 team for most of the game. The team turned the ball over 14 times, got outrebounded 33-26 and allowed NMSU to shoot 57.8 percent from the floor. Only a spate of late 3-pointers made its own shooting statistics appear passable. And Utah State made only four appearances at the free-throw line, making one.
Preston Medlin led the team with 14 points, and was one of the few standard-bearers on offense. Many others dribbled out: Utah State missed 10 layups or shots around the basket.
It was the ultimate measurement of a team that Morrill had said coming into the game had a "deceiving" record.
"They were much more physical than us, and they let us know it," Morrill said. "On offense, we executed a little bit at the end of the game. We just took some bad shots, got frustrated, tried to make plays when they weren't there."
The loss comes at an inopportune time. Utah State must turn around to play Denver on Saturday, and the Pioneers are coming off a 73-37 drubbing of San Jose State.
After Thursday night, there's a beating urgency for the Aggies to get back to winning. And a few things need to change quickly.
"If we don't lock in against Denver, we'll get embarassed," Shaw said. "I hate to say it it's just the facts."
Storylines N. Mexico St. 64, Utah St. 51
R New Mexico State shoots nearly 70 percent from the floor in the second half to cruise to the win.
• Utah State loses its first game since November.