On the surface, this would seem like a mismatch. The New Mexico State Aggies came into tonight having lost only one game since December 29th, while winning the other 17. They would face off against a Seattle University Redhawks team that had to win three of their last four just to finish at .500 in conference play.
Easy win, right? Maybe, except that one loss for the Aggies was on the road at Seattle. So nothing was guaranteed tonight.
Then again, maybe the difference between these two teams really is that stark, especially with Daniel Mullings back from injury. Sure, Seattle was getting a few easy buckets by tossing lobs in behind a less-than-airtight NMSU zone defense in the first half, but they were also missing the easiest of baskets as well. Exhibit A, by Jack Crook:
Meanwhile, New Mexico State, and specifically Remi Barry, were jacking threes over the top of the Redhawk defense, dropping a total of five to help them push their halftime lead to 33-22. It probably didn't help Seattle's cause that they could not figure out the Aggie defense (the press or the zone) consistently, as evidenced by their finishing the half with nine total rebounds against eight turnovers.
The announcers described the Aggie defense as "five energizer bunnies" which is probably a bit of an exaggeration, helped by the Redhawks doing things like repeatedly picking up the dribble at halfcourt. Against even an above average defensive team, you might as well just hand the ball over then.
Perhaps the most accurate description of Seattle U's first half was when Isiah Umipig drained a three right before the half... and it didn't count because it was a shot clock violation. Freshman Jadon Cohee, who averaged 5.3 ppg entering tonight and who had topped six points nine times all season, was the leading scorer at the half with - you guessed it - six points.
I turn to our fearless leader Ben Miraski for the commentary on this one:
"Joe, Seattle crossed half court knowing full well this would go badly. He had won a contest to be a Redhawk for a day. It was not going well. When two Aggies, guns out and blazing approached, he knew he was done for."
And yet, nobody seemed to be enjoying the Aggie domination.
Smile!!! Your team is winning. This is supposed to be fun. pic.twitter.com/1Yo6nqj2OC— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) March 15, 2015
Granted, when you look at the stat sheet, stopping the Redhawks is not hard. Umipig and Jarell Flora are half the team's offense, and they make their hay from long range. Stop those two, and you have a great chance.
The Aggies did exactly that, holding that pair to a combined 4-for-13 from the field. They each made a three early on, but that was about it despite Umipig's 13 points, as Seattle only had three times all game where they scored on consecutive possessions.
Cohee will probably do some big things for the Redhawks in many games to come, especially if he can turn his 16 point effort tonight into a regular occurrence, but the Aggies are doing big things right now. Tshilidzi Nephawe finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, plus another 21 points for Barry.
The Aggies are going dancing for the fifth time in the last six seasons, and they looked good getting there.