Being in second place is a payoff for our hard work that began in the offseason," said NMSU head coach Reggie Theus. "We have given ourselves a chance for a good seed heading into the final week."
The Aggies, who are at Hawaii on Thursday, had to rally for a large chunk of the second half without the services of point guard Elijah Ingram who left with 14:20 remaining with a right hamstring injury.
Theus said Ingram tweaked his hamstring and he wasn't sure of his status after the game. He felt Ingram would eventually return, at least in time for the WAC Tournament on March 7-11 in Reno, Nev.
New Mexico State held Idaho to just six points over the final 14:04 of the game and limited the Vandals to just six second half field goals.
"We knew we had to change the tempo of the game," said Aggie guard Mike Mitchell, who along with fellow senior Trevor Lawrence played their final home games. "Idaho was playing its game in the first half."
The Vandals led 41-27 with 17:20 left after a layup by Igor Vrzina. Then NMSU shifted gears. The Aggies turned up the heat with their full court pressure and half court defense and slowly cut into the lead.
With Ingram out, Mitchell and fellow guard Shaun Davis took over. Mitchell scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, and Davis scored 10 of his 14.
The Aggies just kept coming at Idaho and when Davis drained a 3-pointer with 10:27 to put NMSU up 46-45, NMSU never trailed again.
"We didn't want to lose this one," Davis said. "Coach Theus got after us at half. Sometimes we have a tendency to overlook teams. We started making some plays on both end of the court and we needed this one headed to Hawaii."
Added Theus: "We have a swagger about us now and that's good. But sometimes that swagger can hurt you if don't have substance behind it. I wanted our kids to check the substance at the door and regain that hunger that we have showed that has made teams fear us. We had a lot of hunger and energy in the second half."
Forward Tyrone Nelson led the Aggies with 21 points and nine boards. New Mexico State made 16-of-30 from the field in the second half and also knocked down 13-of-16 free throws for the game.