ALBUQUERQUE-- The 72-60 final score that resulted from the 190th meeting between hated in-state rivals New Mexico State and University of New Mexico on Sunday is a bit misleading.
Sure, 12 points is a lot -- especially when you consider New Mexico, with its vicious Pit crowd in tow, was the favorite. But this game was every bit as dramatic and suspense-filled as their first encounter on Nov. 30, which the Aggies won by a single point.
Every time NMSU threatened to blow New Mexico out of its own building, the Lobos would claw their way back, whether it was a 3-pointer by Jeff Hart or a dunk by Ruben Douglas. Make no mistake, the Aggies were in a game Sunday.
The difference between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15 was simple: James Moore.
The junior forward performed at such a high level Sunday, it was hard to believe he had missed the first six games because of academic ineligibility.
But indeed he was magnificent, blocking shots, pulling down rebounds and scoring points.
Moore finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four blocks to help the Aggies improve to 6-1, and showing that NMSU will be quite the force with Moore and senior center Chris Jackson back on board.
"Actually, I was a little nervous," said Moore, who scored on the first field goal he attempted -- a jumper from the inside. "I didn't expect to (come out and play like this). But (assistant) coach (Tony) Stubblefield told me to just let my game come to me."
That Moore had such a night in such an adverse atmosphere and against an opponent that wanted to win so badly is a testament to his achievement.
"It feels great," he said. "The team and I hushed the crowd up."
Moore's showing was the highlight of a solid Aggie night. Senior Brandon Mason played with his usual zeal, finishing with 17 points and four rebounds; and sophomore Jason Fontenet was again deadly from beyond the 3-point line, hitting 2-of-4 from long range and 5-of-10 field goals to finish with 15 points.
"Moore did a tremendous job for his first game out," NMSU coach Lou Henson said. "We wouldn't have won without him."
Henson -- who was unhappy with the defensive play of his club last year -- has changed his tune this year. The return of Moore and Jackson helped stymie Lobos (3-3) efforts inside, and Mason did an admirable job on Lobo senior Ruben Douglas, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
"Our defense is good," Henson said. "Our defense and rebounding won us the game.
"And nobody's going to shut down Douglas."
There was one glaring NMSU deficiency: turnovers. The Aggies committed 23, many of which were walks that resulted from Moore's early-game rustiness.
"It was a strange game," Henson said. "I've never had a team walk that many times. Those turnovers hurt us bad. New Mexico did a good job. They took care of the ball and shot the ball well. They played hard. I was impressed."
First-year NMSU coach Ritchie McKay was similarly impressed with the Aggies.
"They have two very potent weapons who have size and strength," McKay said, speaking of Moore and Jackson, who scored eight points. "Moore is a tremendous scorer. They are a complete team."
When asked if NMSU was an NCAA-caliber team, McKay said: "I was in the Pac-10, and I don't remember teams that athletic in our league."
NMSU plays host to UTEP on Wednesday