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NMSU reaches WAC semifinals

NMSU coach Paul Weir. (File Photo: NMSU)

LAS VEGAS, NV - The New Mexico State men’s basketball team overcame a tough opening half from the floor and waltzed away with a 67-53 win over Chicago State in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals in Orleans Arena.

With the win, NM State is now 13-2 all-time in Las Vegas with its only losses coming in 2011 against Boise State (semifinals) and then in 2016 against CSU Bakersfield (championship).

Reigning WAC Player of the Year, Ian Baker, led the way for NM State with 15 points and five assists while Braxton Huggins chipped in with 14 points. Eli Chuha added 12 points of his own as he collected his 14th double-double of the year with 11 boards as well.

The Aggies saw themselves down early in the game on Thursday, but the bright spot was that it was due to NM State not being able to find the bottom of the basket rather than Chicago State’s defense. With New Mexico State having a hard time shooting from the floor, the Cougars were able to take a 12-7 advantage heading into the 11:46 media timeout.

New Mexico State started to find its rhythm from that point on and began chipping away at the deficit. The Aggies took their first lead of the game, 24-23, at the 3:13 mark in the first half when Baker found Jonathon Wilkins on an out of bounds play in the low block. NM State would not relinquish its lead from that point on as it took a 28-25 lead into the break.

After four-straight points from Chuha, a 3-pointer from Chancellor Ellis made it a 20-4 run for NM State that started with 4:40 left in the first half.

Chicago State tried to chip away at the NM State lead and got as close as 42-35 with 10:04 left on the clock. Wilkins hit both free throws out of the under eight media timeout to give the Aggies a double-digit lead that it held the remainder of the game.

The Aggies will now play the winner between the No. 3 seed UMKC and the No. 6 seed UT Rio Grande Valley in the semifinals on Friday, March 10. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. (MT)/8:30 p.m. local time (PT) on ESPN3.

POSTGAME NOTES: With 10 assists tonight, NM State has now reached double-digits in 27-of-31 games…Chance Ellis made his first field-goal of the year that wasn’t from 3-point range on Thursday…the sophomore guard was 0-3 previously inside the arc…Thursday was the eight time NM State was outrebounded in a game…however, the Aggies are 4-4 this season in games where they have been out rebounded.

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