LAS CRUCES, N.M. – When it comes time for conference play, there are no ‘easy’ games, especially when facing teams in the upper -half of the standings. Riding a three-game winning streak heading into the Saturday afternoon contest, NM State (12-11, 7-4 WAC) fought hard, but unfortunately could not keep pace with Grand Canyon (16-6, 8-3 WAC), falling 64-59 at the Pan American Center. Tayelin Grays put in an all-around performance, recording a new career-high in points (23), while leading the team in rebounds (five), three-pointers made (three), blocks (two) and tied for the lead in steals (two). Molly Kaiser recorded 12 points in limited action due to foul trouble, with Sylena Peterson rounding out the double-digit scorers with 11 points. Olivia Lane led the ‘Lopes with 26 points.
Grand Canyon secured the opening tip but the Aggie defense started strong, forcing the ‘Lopes into a shot clock violation. Tiarra Brown of GCU put the first points of the game on the board, giving them an early 2-0 advantage. After falling behind 10-0 within the first five minutes of action, a mid-range jumper from the right elbow by Molly Kaiser finally put NM State on the board with 5:25 remaining in the opening stanza. Facing a 12-point deficit (14-2), a pair of Kaiser free throws and a layup by Tayelin Grays brought the game within single digits, but every time the Aggies tried to build some momentum, Grand Canyon would answer with a bucket of their own. Until Tayelin Grays decided to take over that is.
With 14 ticks remaining in the opening quarter, Grays backed down her defender before fading right, banking in a jumper while drawing the foul. Unable to convert the three-point play, the Aggies corralled the offensive rebound and fed the ball to the senior from Dayton, Texas who sunk a triple from the right wing, making up five points in the span of seven seconds. When the buzzer sounded, NM State found itself down by seven, 22-15. Kaiser and Grays combined for all but two points in the quarter, going 5-of-8 from the field. The ‘Lopes shot at a 66% clip in the opening frame, while controlling points in the paint 14-6.
The second quarter began much like the first, with GCU scoring first out of the break. Molly Kaiser once again got the NM State offense flowing to start the quarter, knocking down a jumper from the left elbow to make it 24-17 in favor of GCU with 8:25 left in the first half. Taking a page from the track & field team, the Crimson & White changed strategy and began to parlay their tough defense into fast break opportunities, starting with a coast-to-coast fastbreak bucket by Sabou Gueye to cut the Grand Canyon lead to five (22-17) with 5:18 remaining. A couple possessions later, stingy defense by Taylor Donaldson and Soufia Inoussa led to another fastbreak chance for the Aggies, finding a streaking Tayelin Grays wide open in the paint to shrink the lead to four (24-20). Kaiser closed the first half with a pull-up jumper to the right of the free throw line, making it a 34-30 game through the first twenty minutes.
NM State clamped down the defense in the second quarter, recording a pair of blocks, forcing five turnovers and holding the ‘Lopes to 30% shooting from the field, including a 0-3 mark from beyond the arc. The Aggies tightened up their post play in the second quarter, outscoring Grand Canyon 10-8 in the paint and recording nine second chance points to GCU’s six. Neither team produced much scoring off the bench, with the ‘Lopes producing a slight edge (4-2). Tayelin Grays did a little bit of everything in the opening half of action, recording team highs in points (13), rebounds (four), blocks (two), and the only Aggie three-pointer of the half. Kaiser (eight points) and Sylena Peterson (five points) rounded out the scorers with more than one made shot.
Molly Kaiser connected on a jumper from the left elbow to open NM State’s second half scoring, keeping it a four-point game (36-32) with 9:14 remaining. Points were sporadic like rain in the desert during the third quarter, with both teams struggling with extended scoring droughts for the first five minutes of the third period. Grand Canyon was able to find the bottom of the net as the quarter went along, posting an 11-2 run over a four-minute stretch to make it a 13-point game (49-36) with just under two minutes remaining in the third. But like they have all season, this Aggie team refused to quit. A fall away floater by Molly Kaiser and a wide-open corner triple by Soufia Inoussa closed the quarter on a 5-0 run to turn it into a 49-41 ballgame heading into the fourth quarter.
For the first time in the game, the Aggies scored first to open the quarter, and Soufia Inoussa’s second made triple of the half made it a one-possession game (49-46), for the first time since the nine-minute mark in the first quarter. A steal by Shania Harper found its way to Sylena Peterson racing down the court, going left-handed to scoop and score to make it a 51-48 ballgame with 5:56 to go. Trailing by 11 with 50 seconds left, NM State went on a scoring frenzy, doing their best to complete a comeback that ultimately fell short.
- Tayelin Grays recorded her fifth double-digit scoring output of the season, and the fourth since WAC play began.
- Molly Kaiser secured her 14th double-digit scoring performance of the season, and the sixth in her previous eight games.
- Sylena Peterson notched her tenth game with double-digit points, and fourth in conference play.
- Soufia Inoussa, the Senior from Stockholm, Sweden, recorded her 100th career start on Saturday afternoon; she also connected on 2+ three pointers for the seventh time this season, and third straight game.
- NM State forced 20 turnovers, the 21st time they’ve forced an opponent into 15+ turnovers in a game.
- The Aggies dominated when giving extra possessions, outscoring the ‘Lopes in points off turnovers (19-5), and second chance points (21-9).