In an ever-changing Western Athletic Conference, there remains one constant: New Mexico State is tough to beat at tournament time.
Sim Bhullar and Daniel Mullings scored 16 points each, and Terrel de Rouen made a pivotal step-back jumper with 1:20 left as the No. 3-seeded Aggies held off No. 4 Texas-Arlington 64-55 in the WAC tournament final Saturday in front of 1,142 fans at Orleans Arena.
New Mexico State, one of three schools that will remain in the conference next season while seven others depart, won its second straight WAC championship and third in four years under coach Marvin Menzies, a former UNLV assistant. Bhullar, a 7-foot-5-inch redshirt freshman, added 15 rebounds and five blocked shots to earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
The Aggies (24-10) were clinging to a 56-53 lead when de Rouen hit a 15-footer from the right wing with the shot clock about to expire. Texas-Arlington closed to within 60-55, but de Rouen hit 2 of 4 free throws late and Mullings put the finishing touches on the win with an emphatic breakaway dunk.
“The boy’s (de Rouen) got huevos, as they say,” Menzies said. “He makes big shots like that. As a kid with a lot of moxie, it doesn’t surprise you.”
Kevin Butler led the Mavericks (19-13) with 13 points, and Karol Gruszecki added 11 points despite battling foul trouble for much of the game.
New Mexico State opened the second half on a 14-4 run to go up 46-34, and after Bandja Sy (10 points) made a 3-pointer with 11:25 left, the Aggies had their biggest lead at 51-38. However, Texas-Arlington answered with an 11-1 spurt, getting within 52-49 on a baseline jumper by Brandon Edwards.
Bhullar was dominant inside early, scoring seven of the Aggies’ first nine points while finishing the half with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Mullings added 10 points, but the rest of the Aggies shot 3-for-14 from the floor during the opening 20 minutes.
Gruszecki capped a 10-2 run with a baseline jumper that put the Mavericks on top 19-15 midway through the first half, and Jordan Reves’ baby hook over Bhullar gave Texas-Arlington a 30-27 lead. The Aggies responded with the final five points of the half and took a 32-30 lead at halftime.
In the women’s final, Stacy Barr finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 3-seeded Idaho clinched its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1985 with a 67-64 victory over No. 1 Seattle.
The Vandals (17-15) trailed 50-47 with 6:40 remaining before going on a 13-2 run to take control. Barr sealed the victory by going 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 53 seconds.
Kacie Sowell had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Redhawks (20-10).
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.