Miami, Fla. - Solid shooting and good defense was the key for the New Mexico State men's basketball team as they defeated the Florida International Golden Panthers 74-52 in Miami, Fla. at the Golden Panther Arena.
The Aggies improve their record to 10-4 on the season and pulled even in the Sun Belt Conference at 2-2. The Golden Panthers drop to 6-10 overall and 0-3 in the league.
"When you've been on the road for seven days and play three games, I have to give us a high score," head coach Lou Henson said. "I thought we played with a lot of intensity and we rebounded the ball very well."
The Aggies won their second straight conference road game by having four players score in double figures for the second straight contest. Sophomore Jason Fontenet led the Aggies with 14 points, all in the first half, on 4-of-7 shooting and 4-of-5 from the line. Fontenet has now missed only four free throws this season and is shooting 90 percent from the line.
Junior James Moore added 13 for NMSU, 11 of those in the second half, while Brandon Mason and Chris Jackson both dropped in 12. Mason added seven assists, moving him into ninth in career assists at NMSU with 262. Moore also had two blocked shots and is now tied with Charles Gosa for second at NMSU in career blocks with 115.
Eulis Baez led the Golden Panthers with a 16 point, 10 rebound performance.
As a team, NMSU shot 52 percent from the field on 25-of-48. The Aggies also dominated from behind the 3-point line, making 8-of-18 for 44 percent while FIU made just 11-of-14. NMSU is now 5-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field this season.
Defensively, NMSU held FIU to only 36 percent from the field. The Aggies are now a perfect 5-0 when holding opponents to 60 points or less.
The Aggies start the game hot, starting the game with an 8-1 run. The Golden Panthers would cut the Aggies lead to two points at 10-8, but an Aggie field goal and two free throws by Mason extended the lead to four.
Jason Fontenet took the ball coast to coast off an FIU missed shot, making the basket and drawing foul. He would convert the free throw for a traditional 3-point play. The Aggies would then push their lead to 11 points at 20-9 on 10-2 run.
The Panthers then put together a 6-0 run of their own but a Jason Fontenet 3-point basket put the Aggies back up by nine. NMSU continued to pressure FIU, going up by as many as 12 with 5:25 to go in the half. The Aggies would end the half on a 9-5 run, capped off with Jason Fontenet hitting a shot with three seconds give the Aggies a 39-25 going into the locker room.
Jason Fontenet led the Aggies in the first half with 14 points, followed by Kelsey Crooks with eight. As a team, NMSU shot 50 from the field and 53 percent from 3-point range on 7-of-13 shooting.
The Aggies accomplished all this with leading scorer James Moore collecting two quick fouls in the first two minutes and sitting for the rest of the half.
"The team really came together after Moore got those two quick fouls in the beginning of the game," Henson said. "I really give them credit for stepping up and playing good defense and taking good shots."
The second half was a different story from the first, with FIU beginning the half on a 9-5 run and cutting the Aggies' 14 point lead to just nine with 15:32 to go in the game. Then a Mason dunk, a free throw by James Felder and a lay-up by Moore gave the Aggies a 12-point lead with 13:43.
The Aggies would maintain a 12-point lead for most of the next three minutes, as both teams exchanged baskets. Then a Jackson lay-up and two free throws by Mason gave the Aggies a 16-point lead, at 56-40 with 8:50 left in the game.
With 3:28 to go in the game, the Aggies had pushed their lead to 20 points and were in control. During that five minute span Moore would score eight of the Aggies 10 points.
NMSU ended up its four-game road trip with a 2-2 record and now play the next three at home, starting with UT Pan American Saturday night in Las Cruces. Tip off is set for 7:30 p.m.