Shades of '08, NMSU stands alone atop WAC
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – A barrage of 3-pointers from New Mexico State saw it cruise past Utah Valley Saturday afternoon in the Pan American Center 86-59 and took sole possession of first-place in the Western Athletic Conference as it handed the Wolverines their first loss of league play.
The 15 triples from New Mexico State is a season-high for the Aggies. The last time NM State hit 15-plus from beyond the arc was on Dec. 28, 2008, against Loyola Marymount. With the win, the Aggies have now won six-straight games, including a 10-straight in WAC play spanning into last season.
Jemerrio Jones and Johnathon Wilkins got things going early for the Aggies and gave them an 18-9 lead at the first media break (12:39). Utah Valley (15-6, 4-1 WAC) cut the lead several times to single-digits in the first-half, but the Aggies found an answer each time to bring it back into double-digit range.
“Obviously we came out of the gates really well, we kind of established our identity,” Aggie head coach Chris Jans said postgame. “I think it was a wire-to-wire win and overall in my opinion it could have been one of the best games we have played all year, definitely the best game we have played at home thus far.”
Nine of the final 11 points for UVU came via the three-ball, which brought it down to 34-39 with 2:52 remaining in the half before a triple from Zach Lofton and fast-break layup from Eli Chuha gave the Aggies a 39-29 advantage heading into the locker room.
As well as NM State shot in the first half (16-of-32), it found the bottom of the basket even more in the second-half – especially Lofton, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the second frame on 5-of-8 shooting from deep.
New Mexico State didn’t waste any time out of the gates, blitzing the Wolverines with a 21-4 run that forced UVU to call a timeout – its first of two within a three-minute span.
The Aggies continued to knock down shot-after-shot and took a 28-point lead three separate times before a corner three from Gabe Hadley made it 86-57 to give NM State its largest lead of the afternoon.
NM State held UVU’s Akolda Manyang to just one point and held one of the nation’s best rebounder to just four boards as well. As a team, the 59 points by UVU Saturday was its second-lowest point total of the season – which was 58 at home versus in-state rival BYU.
It was the second-straight game where NM State had four players reach double-figures in scoring. Led by Lofton’s 24 points, six rebounds and three assists, Sidy N’Dir chipped in with a season-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting – four of which came from downtown.
Wilkins had a great offensive night, adding 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting while Chuha rounded things out with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.
BY THE NUMBERS
The 34 made field-goals by NM State is the seventh time it has hit 30-plus from the field…it was also the sixth time this season the Aggies have shot above 50-percent from the field (.548)…the 53.6-percent from three this evening is also a season-high.
New Mexico State now hits the road for a single game at UMKC next Saturday, Jan. 27, for a 6 p.m. (MT) tip-off on the WAC Digital Network before returning home for a four-game homestand beginning with Northern New Mexico on Tuesday, Jan. 30.