LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Senior Justin Hawkins scored 26 points as he defended his homecourt against Idaho and led New Mexico State University to a 73-53 win at the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament Thursday in the Pan American Center.
NMSU (20-13) advanced to the semifinal round against Nevada tonight, while Idaho ended its season with an 8-21 record.
“It is frustrating because we just didn’t make the shots that we usually make,” Idaho senior Darin Nagle said. “We didn’t make the shots and they did. They haven’t shot like that against us this year.”
Hawkins went 8 for 14 and had 13 rebounds to lead the Aggies as senior and former Pullman High School player Fred Peete and sophomore Jonathan Gibson each contributed 12 points.
“My seniors are playing excellent ball,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “They have done everything I have asked. I have continued to talk about them as my backbone, and I am standing tall because of them.”
NMSU never allowed Idaho to relax as the Aggies took a 13-2 lead 6 minutes into the game and never allowed a lead change.
Nagle led the Idaho offense as he went 4 of 7 from the field and 3 of 6 from the foul line and finished the night with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Idaho cut the difference to 10 points with 6:13 left in the first half, after Vandals junior Mike Hall intercepted an inbounds pass by Wendell McKines and made a 3-pointer.
The turnover was the second of its kind by the Aggies in two minutes, and both times Hall added points for Idaho.
Despite Hall’s efforts, NMSU extended its lead to 36-25 by halftime, when Hawkins had 22 points and nine rebounds. The Vandals sent Hawkins to the line five times in the opening half, where he went 7 for 9.
“I just come to the game focused,” Hawkins said. “There is more on the line now. I don’t want to be done. I want to keep wearing this NMSU jersey as long as I can.”
Hall responded to the Aggies’ initial surge with eight points in the first half and Nagle contributed six points.
“We knew we had to get to him, but we didn’t want to panic,” Idaho coach George Pfeifer said. “We said we needed to be more assertive and more aggressive to get to Hawkins, but we knew if we got too crazy with that fire we would create a whole lot more fires. We fought hard to the bitter end.”
Idaho leading scorer Jordan Brooks, who has averaged 12.8 points per game this season, was scoreless at halftime. The junior’s first and only field goal came 2 1/2 minutes into the second half, when he drove past 6-foot-11 NMSU center Hatila Passos to narrow the NMSU lead to 42-30.
Going into the WAC tournament, Brooks was one of only 10 players across the country who led his team in points, rebounds and assists.