WAC Tournament First Round Recap: New Mexico State Exhales After Nailbiter Against Seattle

USA TODAY Sports

The 7-5 giant Sim Bhullar saved New Mexico State from a crushing defeat at the hands of Seattle, while Utah Valley put any doubts of their legitimacy to rest Thursday.

No. 2 New Mexico State vs No. 7 Seattle

Score: 70-68 New Mexico State

Those who stayed up late in Vegas to watch the completion of this game got their money's worth as New Mexico State was barely able to escape with a two-point victory. A game that wasn't expected to be highly contested was close from the very beginning and neither team ever led by more than seven points.

I don't know what Sim Bhullar has been eating lately, because he's averaging 17.3 points and 13.0 rebounds over his last four games. He put up 24 and 14 tonight and also had blocked five shots. On a night where WAC Player of the Year Daniel Mullings only managed one field goal, the Aggies really needed every point they got out of Bhullar.

Seattle's Isiah Umipig certainly did his part to keep the game interesting with 25 points. However, it might have been his trigger-happiness from downtown (16 3-point attempts) that ended up being the Redhawks' downfall.

Next up for New Mexico State is Bakersfield, who also won a very close contest Thursday but figures to be more of a challenge for the Aggies than Seattle was. Can NMSU manage to win two close games in a row?

No. 1 Utah Valley vs No. 8 Texas-Pan American

Score: 83-63, Utah Valley

Heading into this weekend, there were bound to be plenty of doubters for the Wolverines. Many would argue that New Mexico State is the most talented team in the WAC, or that Utah Valley was lucky to earn the one-seed, or both. Still, pretty hard to doubt a team that shoots 70.5 percent on field goals in its first round game.

The Wolverines and Broncs played tick-for-tack for the first ten minutes of the game until Utah Valley began to pull away with a 31-5 run in the final 10 minutes of the first half. There really wasn't any doubt in this one as the Wolverines cruised thanks to 24 points from Holton Hunsaker and a combined 10-for-15 shooting from 3-point range.

Utah Valley will face Idaho Friday, against whom the Wolverines swept the regular season series.

No. 3 Chicago State vs No. 6 Bakersfield

Score: 68-62, Bakersfield

Despite forcing a total of 17 turnovers over the course of the game, Chicago State's ultimate regular-season weakness (too much fouling) was its downfall tonight as it fell to the lower-seeded Roadrunners by allowing them to get to the line 37 times where they converted on on 29 of their attempts. If you ask Ken Pomeroy, the writing was on the wall for this upset as the advanced metrics strongly preferred Bakersfield.

Issiah Grayson led the way for the Roadrunners with 29 points and the team did well to hold Quinton Pippen, Chicago State's leading scorer, to just seven points for the game on 1-for-7 shooting. Next up for Bakersfield is New Mexico State, who barely squeaked out a win against Seattle and appear to be vulnerable to an upset.

No. 4 UMKC vs No. 5 Idaho

Score: 73-70, Idaho

The last meeting of the regular season and the first meeting of the postseason for these two teams ended in the same result, with Idaho beating UMKC by single digits. In the end, the Kangaroos simply could not stop Idaho's Stephen Madison who went on a complete tear with 26 points on 6-for-14 shooting, draining all 11 of his free-throw attempts and corralling 17 rebounds.

Madison was the king of the game in this one as he also made a crucial layup with 22 second remaining in the game to put his team up by three, after which the Vandals were able to get a stop and complete the mini-upset.

For Idaho it will be crucial that Madison still has the energy to play tomorrow night against the top-seeded Wolverines after logging 39 minutes and putting in maximum effort tonight. If he can't stay on the floor, the game might be over early for the Vandals.

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