“Credit to New Mexico,” head coach Tim Duryea said. “I thought they were extremely hard to play against … They did a great job of not letting us execute and we had a seven or eight-minute stretch where we played about as badly as we can play. We just could not overcome that stretch.”
Initially, USU seemed poised to continue their magical run, utilizing a 12-0 run early in the game to take a 20-12 lead with 9:45 remaining in the first half. New Mexico’s full court press suffocated USU afterwards, however, as the Aggies managed only five more points before halftime as the Lobos stormed in front to take a 37-25 lead into the locker rooms.
“They play that pressure defense,” sophomore guard Sam Merrill said. “It started with one turnover and then we just got sped up, and that’s exactly what they want you to do and that’s what you can’t do. Once you get sped up and have a couple of turnovers, it all turns mental, and that was our issue.”
In USU’s first two games of the tournament, the Aggies overcame deficits of 15 and 13 points, but the margin proved to be too large on Friday. New Mexico stretched their lead out to 23 points early in the second half as USU continued to struggle against the press. Utah State attempted to build a comeback throughout the remainder of the game, but was unable to trim the lead to single digits.
“When it started going their way, I thought mentally, as much as physically, we did not handle that very well,” Duryea said. “ It just kind of snowballed … So when we made a couple of mini-runs in the second half, we could never make them stand up because (New Mexico) always kind of came through and stemmed the tide.”