Photo by Mykah Heaton
OREM—The UVU men’s basketball team lost a nail biter to New Mexico State University 74-69 Saturday night in the UCCU Events Center. The Wolverines led for nearly three quarters of the game but went cold in the crunch time minutes.
NMSU’s Eli Chuha had an outstanding game, scoring 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting and 12 rebounds. Six of those boards came on the offensive end, an area the Aggies (20-2) dominated all night. Guard Ian Baker was a problem for the Wolverines (10-11) as well, scoring 24 points of his own to go along with six rebounds and five assists.
“This freaking Chuha was really hard for us,” head coach Mark Pope said. “He was a problem for us.”
The Aggies corralled 44 total rebounds on the night, 19 more than UVU. That disparity led to 20 second chance points for NMSU. They are averaging a plus-six rebounding margin this season, which is good enough for second in the Western Athletic Conference behind CSU Bakersfield.
“New Mexico State is the best offensive rebounding team in our league,” Pope said, “and they showed why tonight and we just didn’t have an answer.”
It was a tale of two halves for UVU as it went on a 15-4 run to close the first half with a seven-point lead then failed to score in the final two minutes of the game. The Wolverines were red hot in the early going, knocking down four treys in the first few minutes of the game. NMSU then instituted a full-court press, slowing down UVU’s offense over the following four minutes and holding the Wolverines without a basket in five tries. The drought was broken up by a 3-point play from Brandon Randolph as he was fouled driving to the hole and finishing with a layup.
NMSU finally took the lead for the first time since the first half with 6:25 remaining in the game. Both teams exchanged baskets until the Aggies completed an and-one play and then took the lead for good with just over a minute left. Down three points with 11 seconds to play, UVU was unable to inbound the ball, effectively ending any chance to tie or take the lead.
“I felt like our execution down the stretch was extremely poor and at the end of the day it cost us the game,” Pope said. “Against a team that has the second longest winning streak in the country you need to make some positive plays down the stretch and we just couldn’t do it tonight.”
UVU felt the absence of Zach Nelson who was injured in Thursday night’s game. Pope struggled to find a rotation that met the team’s needs. Nelson’s loss forced some awkward defensive matchups and an added difficulty rebounding.
“I might need to make some different rotation decisions in crunch time and we need to figure all that out,” Pope said.
The Wolverines move on to play Saturday on the road against Seattle University. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. MST.
“We don’t have any room now to take any steps back. We need to try and start moving forward here and getting better,”said Pope.