- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies walked into the postgame news conference with a net around his neck, the latest trophy from a run of titles.

No matter how many times the Aggies have earned a spot in the NCAA tournament, it never gets old.

Daniel Mullings scored 18 points, Sim Bhullar added 14 and New Mexico State won its third straight Western Athletic Conference tournament title by routing Idaho 77-55 Saturday night.

“Making the (NCAA) tournament is obviously a goal we had,” Menzies said. “I’m very excited about getting back and hopefully making some noise when we get there.”

New Mexico State (26-9) often worked its offense through Bhullar, and the Vandals were unable to stop the Aggies’ 7-foot-5, 355-pound center around the rim or rotate fast enough when he kicked it out.

The second-seeded Aggies jumped to a big early lead and never gave Idaho a chance, shooting 56 percent while outscoring the Vandals 46-16 inside.

Bhullar was named tournament MVP. Tshilidzi Nephawe added 12 points for New Mexico State, which had a 38-21 advantage in rebounds to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament instead of having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

“This year’s been a roller coaster ride,” Mullings said. “Like coach always says at the beginning of the season, all the teams in the NCAA, every team has its trials and tribulations just like we had ours. We had a couple highs, good games and good wins in nonconference and we had a couple of lows in conference play, but the good thing about us is we stick together.”

Idaho (16-18) beat New Mexico State in the teams’ last meeting this season, but was no match for the Aggies in its first conference title game since 1993.

Stephen Madison scored 17 points and Mike Scott had 14 for the Vandals, who haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1990.

“Our team battled. There was a point in the season where we could have given up and we didn’t,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “The last month of the season, we were playing as well as anyone in the Western Athletic Conference. I thought we played well in this tournament, but New Mexico State played better.”

The Vandals were the surprise of the bracket, the plucky underdogs with the losing record who had won one WAC tournament game in eight years before this season.

After going 7-9 in the WAC and 14-17 overall, Idaho opened the conference tournament by rallying in the second half to beat Missouri-Kansas City and followed that by knocking off top-seeded and regular-season champion Utah Valley.

New Mexico State had to survive a last-second shot to hold off Seattle in its tournament opener and rallied in the second half to knock off Cal State Bakersfield in the semifinals.

These teams split two games during the regular season; New Mexico blew out Idaho by 24 in Las Cruces, and the Vandals pulled out a six-point win on their home court.

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