LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) – New Mexico State entered the first Battle of I-10 in 711 days as winners of 10 of the last 11 games over its rivals from El Paso.
Make that 11 out of 12.
The Aggies used a 16-5 second half spurt to bury UTEP en route to a 77-71 victory on Saturday night that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. NMSU led by as many as 19 points in the second half and the swagger of the first three years of the Chris Jans era appears to be returning in Las Cruces.
Teddy Allen once again led a balanced Aggies scoring attack with 16 points; Jabari Rice had 15 points, Yuat Alok had 13 and Donnie Tillman had 12, as nine of the 11 Aggies that played found the scoresheet.
Souley Boum scored 21 points for UTEP in his first game of the season for the Miners, after missing the first game of the year and much of the preseason with a hand injury.
The Aggies got off to a decent start in the first half, leading by as many as 12 points. But UTEP’s pressure defense under first-year coach Joe Golding mucked the game up enough to allow the Miners to climb back into the game and the UTEP deficit was just five points at halftime.
Out of the break, it was the Aggies that blitzed the Miners, hitting first and often in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The run culminated in a corner triple by Tillman with 9:26 remaining to give the Aggies an 18-point lead, that forced a UTEP timeout and sent the 8,089 fans packed into the Pan American Center into a frenzy.
Later, Allen hit a difficult step-back three with the shot clock winding down to give the Aggies their biggest lead at 70-51, effectively icing the game.
The Miners would close the game on a 20-7 run to make the final score respectable, much of it in the final two minutes, but it was NMSU that dominated the game.
UTEP led the first installment of the Battle of I-10 since 2019 for just 19 total seconds, early in the first half. NMSU shot 52%, including 8-20 from three point range; UTEP hit on just under 43% of its shots and was only 5-26 from three.
New Mexico State will now head to the Myrtle Beach Invitational, where the Aggies will open up the tournament with Davidson next Thursday. UTEP will host Northern New Mexico on Tuesday at the Don Haskins Center, before traveling to play Pacific on the road next Friday.
The Aggies will pay a return trip to El Paso on Friday, Dec. 3, for the second and final installment of the Battle of I-10 for 2021.