Las Cruces, N.M. • New Mexico State's Sim Bhullar got the worst of the phyiscal scars from New Mexico State's 64-51 win over Utah State.
Late in the second half, Jarred Shaw's elbow smashed him in the nose, bringing the 7-foot-5, 355-pound freshman tumbling to his back. He left the floor a minute later with a towel pressed against his face. He was done.
But Utah State was the team that took the pummeling from Bhullar for the previous 35 minutes. And although the gigantic center was held below his scoring average, there was no doubt he was the single most influential player on defense.
USU simply couldn't figure him out.
"The big guy makes it a whole different game around the basket and changed a whole lot of shots," Stew Morrill said. "They were more physical than us and just played a lot better than us."
Bhullar wasn't much of a mobile forward, but he sure took up space. Utah State spent more than a few possessions trying to figure out how to get around him there certainly wasn't any going over him.
Utah State put three guys on him, and Shaw had the best night with 11 points and four rebounds. But poor Matt Lopez, even though he somehow managed five points, got the worst. Bhullar blocked him three times, the last taking him down to the floor.
The best ways to beat him were to either outrun him in transition, or get him in foul trouble. Utah State didn't do much of either, and eventually shied away from driving in the lane.
"He blocked a couple shots, and guys got scared going against him," Preston Medlin said.
When USU was on defense, it tried to double him at times to prevent inside entry passes for easy buckets. But NMSU got around that by simply making the shots Utah State left open. And that was a big part of the home team's 69.6 percent shooting in the second half.
There will be another chance to take on the supersized rookie when the teams meet again in February in Logan. And chances are the tactics will be a bit different on USU's part.
"You can't get scared, you just gotta keep playing your game and do what you've been taught," Medlin said. "You just gotta keep fighting at it, and eventually you get around it. Hopefully next time we'll figure that out."
NMSU big man has big effect on defense
• New Mexico State's Sim Bhullar finished with five points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
• Utah State's centers were a combined 6 for 15 from the field with only 10 combined rebounds.