JACKSON, MS (KTSM) – Nearly a quarter-century had elapsed since the New Mexico State men’s basketball team’s last victory over a foe from the SEC. Heading into Sunday’s tilt with Mississippi State, it was clear that in order to beat the Bulldogs New Mexico State would need to be better than it had been in order to capitalize on its last chance for a marquee non-conference victory.
Thanks largely to a kid from Las Cruces, an Aggie newbie from the Windy City and a well-timed return by one of their on-court leaders, New Mexico State sent a clear message to the rest of the WAC – and the nation, for that matter: we are back.
Johnny McCants scored 10 of his career-high 18 points during the Aggies’ 12-2 run to open the second half and answered a go-ahead layup by the Bulldogs’ Isaiah Perry by drilling a deep step-back two-pointer with 2:02 to put his team back on top for good as New Mexico State locked down a hard-fought 58-52 victory over Mississippi State Sunday afternoon inside Mississippi Coliseum.
After opening up a 14-point lead with 11:18 left in the game, New Mexico State withstood a furious comeback bid by the Bulldogs who took off on a 21-6 run over the next 8:39 to take their first lead of the second half. That’s when the Aggies’ defense showed up and forced four Mississippi State turnovers through the last 1:26 of the game.
Complimenting that late-game defensive effort was a game-clinching 7-0 run that started with McCants jumper. Those two factors allowed the Aggies to claim victory over an SEC program for the first time since taking down Alabama in the Pan Am Center on Dec. 29, 1994. Pairing well with McCants, Evan Gilyard contributed 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting to go along with a rebound and a team-high three assists.
• The shooting percentages for both sides weren’t overly gaudy through the opening 20 minutes of action, but the Aggies made up for that with a greater degree of aggression and toughness on the glass that allowed them to gain the upper hand.
• Through the first 8:42 of the frame, Johnny McCants had accounted for all four of the Aggies’ points, but a 5-0 run by the Bulldogs left the Aggies at an 8-4 disadvantage with 11:19 to go in the half.
• After hitting just one of their first 12 field goals, the Aggies were able to end that drought when Gilyard II embarked on a personal 5-0 run that concluded with his team’s first three-pointer of the afternoon.
• Following Gilyard II’s personal outburst, the Aggies never trailed for the remainder of the half. Those five points off the mitts of Gilyard II represented the starting point of a 14-2 run by the visitors over a span of 5:06. Putting the finishing touches on that surge was Trevelin Queen who drove baseline for a two-handed jam that hiked his team’s lead to 18-10 with 6:12 left in the half.
• Queen’s slam enraged the Bulldogs who took off on a 7-0 run capped by Robert Woodard II’s long two-pointer with 3:39 left. With their lead down to one, the Aggies turned to one of their seniors to extend it once again.
• Back in action for the first time this season, guard AJ Harris connected on a wide-open three-pointer from the top of the arc to stop the Bulldogs’ run. Gilyard II struck for two more free throws with 44 seconds to go which helped the Aggies take a 23-21 lead into the half.
• Though the Aggies shot just .250/.250/.667 in the half, they used a 24-16 edge on the glass to maintain the upper hand.
• McCants came out of the break with bad intentions, stealing the Bulldogs’ inbounds pass and hammering home a two-handed dunk to start the final 20 minutes of action. From there McCants ventured out beyond the arc and drilled a three-pointer to keep the Aggies on the attack.
• The Aggies’ big man finished his team’s 12-2 run to start the half by canning another three-pointer that hiked his team’s lead to 35-23 with 16:58 left. New Mexico State kept its foot on the gas and opened up a 45-31 lead after C.J. Bobbitt connected on a driving jumper with 11:18 left. After that, though, the Bulldogs bit back.
• Reggie Perry threw down dunks on back-to-back possessions and that helped the Bulldogs score the next nine points and make it a dingle-digit game with 8:36 to go. Three-pointers by Bobbitt and Jabari Rice kept the Aggies afloat, but still Mississippi State kept coming. The home team answered Bobbitt’s downtown hit at the 6:41 mark with a 9-0 run to take their only lead of the second half.
• From there, McCants’ long two-pointer handed the Aggies the lead once again. Gilyard II finished off a dazzling outing by somehow getting a one-handed runner over Perry and Abdul Ado to rattle in that pushed that Aggies’ lead to 55-52 with 1:26 left. Three Mississippi State turnovers and three Aggie free throw makes later, New Mexico State was able to walk away with the win.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
• After owning the glass in the first half, the Aggies lost the battle of the board in the final 20 minutes by a 16-9 margin. Overall, however, New Mexico State finished with a 33-32 edge in that department over the Bulldogs. Leading the way on the boards was Queen who corralled a game and career-high 10.
• Thanks to Gilyard II’s best outing in an Aggie uniform, New Mexico State walked away with a 23-3 edge in bench scoring. Back in action for the first time in 2019-20, Harris gave the Aggies 17 productive minutes off the bench. In that time, the senior notched three points and a pair of the Aggies’ 10 assists.
• The Bulldogs were paced by Perry who generated a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double. Carter concluded the night with 11 points for Mississippi State who dropped its third game of the season.
COMING UP NEXT
• Following a brief break for the holidays, the Aggies will return to the Pan Am Center to put the finishing touches on their regular season non-conference slate. At 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 29, New Mexico State will take on in-state and NAIA foe Northern Arizona in its final tilt of the 2019 calendar year.