It wasn’t clear what New Mexico State guard Zach Lofton said to Cal State Bakersfield center Moataz Aly as the two passed each other going to their benches, but it set Aly off. The CSUB center lunged toward Lofton to shout back and had to be pulled back to the Roadrunner bench by teammate Bray Barnes.
Maybe it wasn’t Lofton’s words, though, that irked Aly as much as what was happening on the court. Lofton had just hit a 3-pointer to give the Aggies a 15-point lead with six minutes left in a game that CSUB had led for almost 16 minutes in the first half.
The second half was, again, unkind to the Roadrunners. New Mexico State (15-3, 3-0 Western Athletic) outscored CSUB (7-11, 0-3) by 12 in the final 20 minutes for a 66-53 win in the Icardo Center.
The Roadrunners have now lost five straight games and are 0-3 in WAC play for the first time since joining the conference. They’ve been outscored by double digits in the second half of the last four games.
But Saturday was also a game against one of the top mid-major teams in the country and the best in the conference, according to CSUB head coach Rod barnes.
“I feel better about tonight,” Barnes said. “... Tonight we saw a better example of who we are here in Bakersfield.”
CSUB sharpshooter Damiyne Durham sat out for the second game in a row because of his indefinite suspension.
NMSU’s Lofton scored 28 points, making several fadeaway and well-defended shots. He was 8-for-12 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
Aggies forward Eli Chuha scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half as New Mexico State forced the ball inside.
“Zach Lofton makes your defense not look very good, some of the shots he made,” Barnes said. “... Chuha has always been a great post player.”
The Roadrunners tried to do the same with Aly with varying degrees success. Aly hit both his shots in the second half but turned the ball six times in the half. Barnes thought a few of those turnovers were questionable calls.
An offensive drought of more than six minutes was CSUB’s downfall. The Roadrunners led by three early in the second half but 14 straight Aggies points put the home team down by 11 with 9:21 to go.
The Icardo Center fell mostly silent aside from the NMSU fans behind the bench when AJ Harris hit a layup and drew a blocking foul to punctuate the New Mexico State run.
CSUB redshirt freshman guard/forward Justin Davis pulled in eight rebounds and scored 10 points. Point guard Brent Wrapp returned from missing one game due to illness and also grabbed eight rebounds.
“Tonight was one step in the right direction. Well gain confidence,” Barnes said. “… That we’re kind of playing the way we were.”
“We gotta get wins,” Davis said. “We keep saying that we’re taking steps, but we gotta take those steps into a ‘W.’”