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Fight erupts after Utah Valley men beat New Mexico State

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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) New Mexico State Aggies guard Daniel Mullings (23) tries to get past the UVU defense in game action at Utah Valley University in Orem on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 27 2014 10:37PM
Updated Mar 16, 2014 03:28PM

Orem • March Madness got an early start Thursday night at the UCCU Events Center.

Ben Aird scored six of his 21 points in overtime and Utah Valley took over first place in the Western Athletic Conference with a 66-61 victory over New Mexico State.

The Wolverines, 17-10 overall and 11-3 in the WAC, rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final 2:35 of regulation to take command of the league race with only two games remaining.

"What a game, what a battle," said Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker. "I don’t like to use military terms, but that was combative. … I couldn’t be more proud of the effort."

The game ended in chaos.

After Utah Valley’s Keawe Enos hit two free throws with four-tenths of a second remaining, the horn sounded and the players were walking toward their benches when New Mexico State’s K.C. Ross-Miller threw the basketball at a Wolverine player.

A brawl ensued involving both teams and Utah Valley students who were rushing the court when Ross-Martin ignited the incident.

"It’s too bad that occurs," Hunsaker said. "It’s sad to see."

Aird agreed.

"It’s very disappointing," he said. "You hate to have a game end that way."

New Mexico State, now 21-9 overall and 10-4 in the WAC, seemed in control when Travon Landry’s free throw gave the Aggies a 52-45 lead.

Utah Valley kept battling, however, and Aird’s two free throws with 22 seconds remaining narrowed New Mexico State’s lead to 52-50.

The Wolverines quickly fouled Daniel Mullings and they stayed alive when he missed the second of two foul shots. Needing a three, Utah Valley got the ball to Enos at the top of the circle. He was being guarded by Sim Bhullar, the Aggies’ 7-foot-5 center who had switched onto him. Enos took two dribbles, leaned into Bhullar and took a wild shot, which missed. But a foul was called and Utah Valley tied the game with 4.3 seconds left when Enos calmly made three straight free throws.

"I just knew — 100 percent — that he was going to make them," Aird said.

Bhullar won the jump ball at the start of overtime, but he missed twice and fouled out going for another rebound on New Mexico State’s first trip down the floor.

Bhullar finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"That’s a big man," Hunsaker said. "He takes up a lot of space — a lot of area. ... As many shots as he blocks, he bothers three-fold."

Aird made two free throws following Bhullar’s fifth foul, giving Utah Valley its first lead since early in the second half. His layup with 1:45 left made it 59-56 left and the Wolverines never looked back.

luhm@sltrib.com

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