New Mexico topples Utah State late Tuesday night

Friday , February 28, 2014 - 12:37 PM

Jeff Hunter, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

LOGAN -- The good news for the Aggies is that their brutal stretch against four of the best teams in the Mountain West Conference is finally over.

The bad news is that Utah State's 78-65 loss to New Mexico Tuesday night at the Spectrum left the Aggies with a rare four-game losing streak.

"That's obviously a very good basketball team," USU head coach Stew Morrill said of New Mexico. "They pretty much dominated both halves. They're hard to guard. They've got a couple of premier players, but didn't even have their normal start at the five.

"I just thought they were really good. ... New Mexico is a bordeline Top 25 team."

Utah State (2-6 in the MWC, 12-8 overall) will try to rebound from four straight losses to Boise State, UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico Saturday afternoon at Wyoming. The Aggies did get a lift Tuesday by the return of sophomore forward Kyle Davis, who scored 10 points and pulled down five rebounds while seeing his first playing time since injuring his right knee at Boise.

"Personally it felt good to get back out there and playing," said Davis, who played 19 minutes against the Lobos. "The knee was a little painful at the beginning, but it started feeling well by the end."

Senior center Jarred Shaw led the Aggies with 15 points and seven rebounds, while senior guard Preston Medlin finished with 13 points and nine assists.

New Mexico (7-1, 16-4) stretched its winning streak to four games behind a 22-point performance by senior forward Cameron Bairstow. The brother of Stephanie Bairstow, a sophomore guard on the USU women's basketball team, Cameron Bairstow went 7 of 13 from the field, 8 of 9 from the free-throw line and blocked four shots in 38 minutes.

The Lobos played without third-leading scorer and leading rebounder Alex Kirk (14.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg), who missed his second straight game with an injury to his left foot. However, guards Kendall Williams (16 points) and Cullen Neal (13 points) and forward Deshawn Delaney (12 points) all reached double figures for New Mexico, which hadn't faced Utah State since 1979.

"We're very fortunate to come in here a get a win," said UNM head coach Craig Neal. "We know it's a tough environment. It was a unique experience for all of us because it was our first time here. I'm really impressed with their team. I've always had great respect for Coach Morrill. I think he does a good job, it's just that our conference is really tough."

Playing in their second straight ESPNU game with a 9 p.m. start, the Aggies got off to a rough start, falling behind 5-0 in the first two minutes before suddenly breaking out on the strength of 3-pointers from Tenale Roland and Jalen Moore to take a 11-7 lead. But New Mexico's shooters quickly responded with an outburst of their own to regain a seven-point advantage.

Utah State clawed its way back to a 23-23 tie with just over eight minutes left in the first half, but in the span of less than two minutes the Lobos buried a trio of 3-pointers to go back up by nine and force an Aggie timeout. New Mexico ended up leading by as many as 10 points and took a 41-33 lead into halftime on the strength of 10 points from Bairstow and nine from Williams.

The Lobos opened up a 12-point lead early in the second half before Utah State finally started to slow down the Lobos' offensive attack. A 17-7 spurt capped by a 3-pointer by Medlin forced Neal to call a timeout while clinging to a 54-52 lead with 9:31 to go, but that ended up being as close as the home team would get the rest of the game as New Mexico steadily rebuilt its advantage back up to as many as 13 points.

"We got close, but they answered the bell and made the plays they needed to," Morrill noted.

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