EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The month of March is here and it is now or never for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team. The Aggies getting off to a hot start in college basketball’s favorite month following their 69-51 win over UTRGV at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso on Tuesday morning.
Jabari Rice led the Aggies with a game-high 16 points. Rice also pulled down eight rebounds and dished out four assists while Clayton Henry (15 points) CJ Roberts (12 points), and Johnny McCants (10 points) all scored in double figures in the win.
With the win, NMSU improves to 8-7 overall, 5-6 in WAC play.
“I’ve always been proud of the toughness and the resilience of our teams,” said NMSU head coach Chris Jans. “Even though our record isn’t what it has been in the past, they’ve shown a lot of resilience to get to this point.”
The Aggies will finish the regular season with a pair of road games at Dixie State over the weekend, looking to string a wining streak together ahead of the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“This year just isn’t the same,” said Rice. “I feel like the mindset is still there, but we just haven’t been able to back it up. If we are going to have that same mindset, we have to be able to back it up. I feel like we are making strides.”
Friday and Saturday’s game at Dixie State is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Burns Arena in St. George, Utah. Both games can be streamed live on the WAC Digital Network.
GAME RECAP (Via: NM State Athletics)
• Sluggish – perhaps due to the 11:00 a.m. tip-off time – to start, NM State drained just two of its first 18 field goal attempts through the game’s first 9:16. From there, however, the Aggies’ offense – and aggressiveness snapped them out of their slumber.
• Down 11-5 after UTRGV’s Uche Dibiamaka put the finishing touches on a three-point play with a swish from the foul line at the 11:25 mark, NM State embarked on a game-changing 26-8 run through the rest of the opening stanza in order to take control.
• Marcus Watson sauntered off the bench and started the Aggies’ move to take things over with a fast-break layup followed up with a deep triple. C.J. Roberts handed the hosts their first lead of the game by connecting on a short jumper which made matters 12-11 with 9:18 left.
• UTRGV responded to the Aggies’ seven unanswered points with four straight – the last three of which came courtesy of Javon Levi’s corner three right in front of the Aggies’ bench at the 7:48 juncture.
• Led by Rice, however, NM State scored the next 11 to ensure it wouldn’t fall behind for the rest of the day. Rice rimmed in a triple before shooting the lane of an errant UTRGV pass and galloping down the court for an uncontested rim-rocker. Johnny McCants capped off that 11-point Aggie run with a layup and two makes at the charity stripe.
• Much like the previous time they played inside the Don Haskins Center, the Aggies got a big boost before the half thanks to a buzzer-beating shot. This time it was Roberts who twirled around Levi in order to launch an off-balance three-pointer that found nothing but the bottom of the net. That long-range hit gave Roberts 10 points at the break and hiked NM State’s lead to 31-19.
• The Aggies’ edge shrank to single digits just one through the final 20 minutes of action. That occurred when Levi drained another corner three-pointer on the Vaqueros’ first possession of the deciding frame to pull his team within nine, 31-22.
• Following that long ball, the Aggies reeled off the next eight points and ended that surge with a sizable punctuation mark when Rice hammered home a driving baseline jam to make matters 39-22 Aggies.
• NM State’s lead grew to as many as 20 points, 46-26, following two free throw makes by Roberts with 12:48 left.
• Down the stretch, NM State turned to Henry to guide it to the promised land. The senior netted all 15 of his points through the final 14:13 and helped the Aggies put things away when the Vaqueros tried to make it a game.
• Following a fast-break score by Levi to cut the Aggies’ lead to 53-43 with 5:44 remaining, Henry went to work. The Calgary, Canada, product scored NM State’s next nine points over the next 2:36 to push the hosts’ lead back to 14, 62-48.
• Evan Gilyard II made it a 16-point Aggie margin, 64-48, with 1:54 left by swishing two free throw tries. NM State’s last nail in the Vaqueros’ coffin came when Watson drained his second – and final – trifecta of the tilt with eight seconds to go in order to account for the final score.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
• In order to get the win, NM State had to navigate one of the nation’s best defenses. The Aggies committed 12 turnovers against one of the land’s best in terms of forcing turnovers, but in turn the hosts made the Vaqueros cough the ball up 16 times which led to 24 NM State points.
• NM State did major work on the glass in the win, too, owning a 44-32 (+12) edge in rebounds over their Lone Star State foes. On the offensive glass the Aggies were particularly tenacious, grabbing 19 compared to UTRGV’s 10.
• Though he didn’t put in a field goal, Gilyard II was the Aggies’ main facilitator. The senior dished out a game-high five of his team’s 12 assists and also got his hands on four rebounds.
• In addition to Henry and Rice, McCants (10) and Roberts (12) put forth double-digit scoring efforts in the win. McCants’ six rebounds were all of the offensive variety, matching his career high in that department.
• With the win, NM State extended its winning streak over UTRGV to 19 games. Additionally, the Aggies have now won 13 regular-season games in the month of March dating back to 2013. Head coach Chris Jans has never lost a regular-season game in the month as the team’s bench boss as his record in games of that configuration now sits at 5-0.