NMSU stays undefeated in WAC conference play

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By The Staff

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, 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 answered with a 10-0 run of their own to take the lead in the latter part of the half.

NMSU 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 NMSU 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 the Lobos headed into a break this season trailing. The only other time came at then-No. 21 Saint Mary’s in NMSU’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.