GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman (KTSM) – A classic tale of two halves scenario played itself out Wednesday night inside John Gray Gymnasium during the title tilt of the 2019 Cayman Classic, unfortunately for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team, they found themselves on the wrong end of that story.
After opening up a 15-point lead in the late stages of the first half, the Aggies were outscored 51-32 over the final 23:57 and dropped a 68-64 decision to George Mason in the first meeting between the two programs. The setback means the Aggies were forced to settle for a runner-up finish at the 2019 Cayman Classic while the Patriots won their first MTE title since 1993-94.
•Jabari Rice starred for the Aggies through the opening 20 minutes of play as the super sophomore put the squad on his back. The Patriots never grabbed the lead in the opening frame as Rice concluded a 12-4 Aggie run through the game’s first 4:38 with a put-back layup and a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions.
•Justin Kier – who would go on to be the Patriots’ hero later in the game – cut the Aggies’ lead down to 21-17 with a fast break jumper in the lane with 6:46 to go in the half before New Mexico State really started to open things up.
•Rice teamed up with Johnny McCants and together that tandem poured in all of the Aggies’ point during their 14-6 run through the final 6:13 of the frame. McCants’ score down low at the 3:58 mark of the half hiked the Aggies’ edge to 32-17, but the Patriots’ AJ Wilson gave his team a glimmer of hope before the half ended by throwing down an uncontested two-hand dunk after receiving a full-court pass with one second remaining in the frame.
•A little less than half of the Aggies’ 35 first-half points were put in by Rice. The sophomore poured in 16 through the frame and helped his team enjoy a 35-23 lead at the break.
•Two of the three long-range shots the Aggies hit in the half came courtesy of Rice and New Mexico State shot .452/.250/1.000 during the frame.
•Switching to a full-court press once the second half got going paid almost immediate dividends for the Patriots as Jamal Hartwell II drained a three to begin the frame before a steal and a layup mere seconds later cut the Aggies’ edge to 35-28 just 33 seconds into things.
•Still, the Aggies managed to push their lead back to double-digits. McCants’ free throw make to conclude an old-fashioned three-point play made matters 49-39 in favor of New Mexico State with 13:01 to go, but the Patriots continued to fight back.
•Four different players put in points for George Mason on its game-changing 15-3 run following McCants’ three-point play. The Patriots opened up their first lead when Hartwell II splashed a wing three that put the Aggies at a 54-52 disadvantage with 6:48 left.
•Terrell Brown answered with his lone long range make of the game on the Aggies’ following possession before Trevelin Queen went on a personal 4-0 run to counter a layup by Wilson. Following Queen’s single-handed scoring outburst, the Aggies led 59-56 with 4:20 left.
•Unfortunately, that’s when the Patriots really got to work. Harewell II knotted matters at 59-all with another three-pointer that started a game-clinching 10-0 run by George Mason. Kier completed a perfect 6-for-6 night from the field with a tough driving jumper that made the Patriots’ lead a two-possession one, 64-59, with 29 ticks left.
•George Mason went 5-of-6 at the foul line through the final 2:07 to wrap up the win. For the half, the Aggies shot just .344/.294/.500 compared to a blistering .556/.400/.917 figure by the Patriots.
•The Aggies were at a disadvantage in free throws, too, going 6-for-8 at the line compared to a 13-for-16 showing by their A-10 rivals.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
•Rice wrapped up the game with a game-high 19 points while Queen totaled 14 on 6-of-15 shooting. After scoring 16 in the first half, Rice was limited to just three over the final 20 minutes while McCants added 11 on 5-of-10 shooting.
•Hartwell II poured in 17 for George Mason while Kier (13) and Wilson (12) starred as well. Wilson completed a double-double with a game-best 14 rebounds as well.
•For their efforts through the three-day event, both Rice and Queen earned spots on the 2019 Cayman Classic All-Tournament Team.
COMING UP NEXT
•Upon returning from international soil, the Aggies will set up shop inside the Pan Am Center with revenge on their minds. Age-old Lone Star State rival UTEP is set to make an appearance on the Aggies’ home court Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., and New Mexico State is hoping to avenge its 65-50 setback to the Miners in El Paso back on Nov. 12.