The New Mexico State men's basketball team let a second-half lead slip away and fell to Niagara, 86-83, in the 2K Sports Classic benefitting Wounded Warrior Project.
Sophomore guard Daniel Mullings scored a season-high 26 points, just two shy of his career high, for the Aggies and was named to the all-tournament team. Junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe contributed a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, which ties a career-high mark. This was his first double-double since March 2, 2011.
Senior forward Bandja Sy was also in double-digits with 10 points. Off the bench, sophomore guard Terrel de Rouen had a career-high nine points, while senior forward Tyrone Watson supplied eight points, six rebounds and five assists.
In NM State's (1-3) third game in four days, the Aggies had a commanding 48-32 lead at halftime. Mullings had a game-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting including a long 3-pointer at the buzzer. Nephawe had 10 points and six rebounds for his first double-digit game of the season.
Nephawe scored the Aggies' first five points to give NM State a 5-2 early lead. The Aggies continued to build a lead with a 20-3 run that broke open the game for a 20-point advantage, 37-17, which was capped off with a Mullings bucket at 5:43. The Aggie defense was strong and forced 15 turnovers and didn't allow a field goal for eight minutes.
NM State used its size advantage and outscored Niagara, 28-12, in the paint in the first half. The Aggies shot the ball well and recorded a 63.3 field goal percentage (19-of-30), including a 3-of-6 showing at the 3-point line.
In the second half, Niagara chipped away at NM State's lead and forced nine turnovers without committing a single one in the last 20 minutes of action.
NM State's double-figure lead was cut to single digits, 73-64, when Niagara hit a 3-pointer with 8:49 to play. That started a Purple Eagle rally, and Niagara had a six-point lead, 84-78, at the 2:22 mark. The Aggies scored the next five points and cut the advantage to one, 84-83, with 1:21 remaining. The NM State defense stopped Niagara on the ensuing possession and had the ball with 27.7 seconds to play.
The Aggies waited for the last shot, and Mullings had a layup just roll off the rim. Niagara made two free throws with less than nine seconds to play, but Sy's 3-point attempt didn't fall in the final seconds.
The Aggies return home for a pair of games inside the Pan American Center during Thanksgiving week. NM State hosts Northern New Mexico, Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in the final game of the 2K Sports Classic. The Aggies host Louisiana, Friday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in a game in memory of former Aggie Kelsey Crooks.