HIGHLIGHTS: Aggies pull off comeback in front of sellout crowd

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Clutch free-throws down the stretch in the final 2:26 minutes of play lifted the New Mexico State men’s basketball team past Grand Canyon Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 12, 898 inside the Pan American Center, 74-70.

The over-capacity crowd played a significant role in the win Saturday night, fueling the Aggies in the final minutes of play while also disrupting the GCU offense to the tune of just 1-of-8 shooting in the final five minutes of play.

New Mexico State (23-3, 9-0 WAC), winners of 11-straight after Saturday’s thrilling victory, have been solid from the free-throw line lately and used it to its advantage. The Aggies knocked down 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in the final five minutes of action en route to their win.

After both teams exchanged a bucket to start the game, the Crimson & White led by Jemerrio Jones rattled off 10-straight points for the 12-7 lead at the first media break. However, the Lopes (17-9, 6-4 WAC) answered with a 10-0 run of their own to take the lead in the latter part of the half.

New Mexico State got within 23-22 of GCU after a jumper from Jones, but the Lopes came right back at the Aggies and pushed their deficit to 33-26 with 3:09 left in the half.

Zach Lofton brought NM State within 40-34 of the Lopes on a jumper with 16 seconds on the clock before heading into the locker room. The deficit was just the second time NM State headed into a break this season trailing. The only other time came at then-No. 21/22 Saint Mary’s in NM State’s second game of the year.

Grand Canyon got off to a hot start in the second-half, knocking down all five shots – two of which came from 3-point range – for the 54-43 lead against the Aggies.

What wound up being the turning point in the game during that stretch was when GCU’s Alessandro Lever got hit with his fifth foul followed by a technical foul. The forward exited the game with 13 points on 5-of-7 from the floor and 16:05 still to play.

From there, the Aggies went on an 8-0 run fueled by four different players and forced GCU head coach Dan Majerle to call a timeout with 12:26 left to play and a narrow 56-51 lead over the Aggies.

Both team hit a shooting slump midway through the second stanza, but a 3-pointer by GCU’s Joshua Braun pushed the Aggie deficit to 61-53 with 9:25 remaining in the game.

The lead for Grand Canyon hit double-digit once more on a lay-up by Keonta Vernon, but it was all New Mexico State from that point forward as the Aggies finished off the final 7:31 minutes of action on a 21-7 run to remain undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play.

Jones continues to stake his claim in Aggie lore, securing his 15th double-double of the season with a jaw-dropping 27 points and 20 rebound night, joining Sam Lacey as the only other player in school history to have three 20-rebound games in a single-season. However, the Memphis, Tenn., native is the only player in Aggie history to do so in three-consecutive games. Jones also became the eighth player in NCAA Division I to have three-plus games of 20 rebounds or more in a single season. The last player to do so was Purdue’s Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan – who had four 20-rebound games last season.

Harris finished with 15 points in the game – including a clutch 3-pointer that tied the game at 64-64 with 4:58 left to on the clock. The Dayton, Ohio, product also went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. Lofton also wrapped up his night with 15 points and six rebounds – in addition to going 4-for-4 at the line down the stretch before finishing 7-of-10.

BY THE NUMBERS

New Mexico State dominated the interior against GCU, outscoring the Lopes 40-18 in the paint…Aggies also won the battle of the boards 56-37…the four assists was a season-low for NM State and just the second time NM State or an opponent had four assists in a single-game…NM State won Saturday night despite leading GCU for just 7:24 minutes of the game while the Lopes had a lead for 27:56 minutes of the game…the Aggies were able to get to the foul line 33 times compared to GCU’s 23.

QUOTABLE

"What a win. Jemerrio Jones, ultimate competitor. He wouldn't allow us to lose. I feel more a part of the history of New Mexico State basketball after playing tonight. Because I have heard so many stories about back in the day and what it was like to play here. I was looking forward to that just to feel it and know what it used to be like. I don't think we win the game without (the fans). We just don't. It's human nature to rev it up a little bit when you have that many cheering for you. We needed them and our guys responded. –Aggie head coach Chris Jans

UP NEXT

The Aggies now hit the road for a critical two-game road stretch next week, starting with Utah Valley on Thursday, Feb. 15, before making their way to the Pacific Northwest for a Saturday matinee meeting with Seattle U on Feb. 17. Both games can be seen on the WAC Digital Network.

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