LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) — It wasn’t how New Mexico State (NMSU) drew it up, but the Aggies raced past Division II New Mexico Highlands (NMHU) in the second half to improve to 5-1 on the season, 94-67, on Wednesday night at the Pan American Center.
What seemed like another run-of-the-mill gameday for NMSU took a surprising turn on Wednesday afternoon. Approximately two hours prior to tip-off, it was announced that head coach Chris Jans, who was going for win No. 100 with the Aggies, would not be on the sidelines after being placed on COVID protocols. Associate head coach James Miller served as the acting head coach against the Cowboys.
“It’s obviously very different, you know, especially with coach [Jans] being who he is and the dynamic of our staff and our team,” said Miller. “But with that being said, I was proud of the guys, the way they played.”
The Aggies found themselves up just one point early in the second half, before a 34-8 run propelled NMSU to their fifth win of the season. The win has been accredited to Jans’ total for No. 100, and Las Cruces native Johnny McCants also earned his 100th win in a storied career at NMSU.
“It personally feels like another win, just because we’ve got a bigger picture,” said McCants. “I mean, this is my 100th win, and I feel special about it. I feel good, but we’ve got bigger games ahead of us.”
It is uncertain when Jans will be able to return to the team, but the hope is by the time NMSU returns to the floor on Tuesday night against in-state rival New Mexico. The first of two meetings against the Lobos this season will take place at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Game Summary (Courtesy: NM State Athletics)
• Though Will McNair Jr,, got his hands on the opening tip, the Aggies’ forward sent it into the waiting arms of Marcus Brown who scored the first basket of the game and put NM State at a 2-0 disadvantage 10 seconds into the game.
• That lead was one of two the Cowboys enjoyed through the 40-minute skirmish, but it appeared as though the Aggies were primed for a runaway after they began the contest on a 16-6 run over the first 5:45. Six different NM State players hit shots during that opening scoring spree and it was Marchelus Avery who closed it out with a powerful slam off of a smooth pass from Donnie Tillman.
• NM State first-half lead bulged to as many as 14 points, 22-8, following a Jabari Rice jumper with 11:49 left in the frame. After that, though, the Cowboys made things a little too close for comfort. The Aggies maintained a 10-point lead, 26-16, only to see New Mexico Highlands take off on an 18-9 run over the final 6:31 of the frame.
• Brown and Andre Adams accounted for 14 of the Cowboys’ 18 points over the course of that scoring spree, but it was a pair of makes by Desmond Carpenter which ended the surge. The Cowboys’ guard made it a two-point game thanks to a runner in the lane with 1:41 left and made sure the visitors remained within one possession at the break.
• Carpenter’s jumper through contact rom Levar Williams cut the Aggies’ once double-digit advantage down to three, 37-34, before the halftime horn sounded.
• Three of the Aggies’ four field goal makes in the last 5:11 were generated by McCants who finished with 13 at the break. Outside of the Aggies’ hometown senior, no other NM State player put in more than four points in a frame that saw the hosts convert only 15.8-percent (3-of-19) of their tries from long distance.
• A nip-and-tuck first four minutes and change of the deciding frame didn’t see the Cowboys’ chances for victory diminish. New Mexico Highlands twice made it a one-point game in that time and it was still a one-possession game after Sammy Barnes-Thompkins drained a trifecta that cut NM State’s lead to 43-41 with 16:49 left.
• Following that triple, Teddy Allen decided he had had quite enough of the Cowboys and their attempt to hang around. Putting the buckets in his Teddy Buckets nickname, the Phoenix, Ariz., product showed off his lethal scoring touch by splashing long balls on four of the next five NM State possessions. Allen’s single-handed distance drop-ins hiked the Aggies’ lead to 13, 55-42, in a span of only 2:07.
• Allen’s one-man scoring extravaganza breathed life into a once-stagnant NM State offense and started that game-changing 34-8 run that made victory a no-doubt thing for the home team. Both McCants and Mario McKinney Jr., threw down dunks over that run which was ended, naturally, by another three from Allen as well as a triple by Rice with 7:28 to go.
• The Aggies’ lead never dipped below 20 points for the rest of the night and grew to as many as 32 points, 91-59, following Mike Peake’s straightaway downtown splashdown with 1:52 remaining.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
• The Aggies could do no wrong from the field in the last 20 minute of action, shooting 58.8-percent in the final frame. NM State’s accuracy was on display especially from distance as it connected on 12 of its 21 tries (57.1-percent) from that range.
• Allen wrapped up his night with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting while adding seven rebounds and a pair of assists. After pumping in 13 points in the opening frame, McCants finished with 18 on 7-of-11 shooting. He also added seven rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals.
• In a little over 27 minutes, Rice contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and two more helpers for NM State which assisted on 20 of its 35 field goal makes.
• Avery topped the Aggies’ charts in rebounding with a season-high nine while McKinney Jr., turned in a fine line of six points, two rebounds, six assists and four steals. The Aggies held a 43-29 (+14) edge on the glass in Wednesday’s win, too.
• Two individuals – Cameron Crawford and Nate Pryor – made their NM State debuts Wednesday night. Pryor, who transferred in from Washington, logged 10 minutes of court time and finished with two points and an assist.
• Crawford, a walk-on from Kirtland, N.M., drew arguably the biggest cheer of the night from the pro-Aggie congregation by splashing a three-pointer with 42 seconds to go. That triple represented Crawford’f first field goal make – and attempt – as a college basketball player.
• Though it was only an exhibition for New Mexico Highlands, that didn’t prevent the Cowboys from putting a scare into the Aggie faithful before the game turned into a runaway in the second half. Brown led a quartet of Cowboys who put in 10 or more points by finishing with a team-high 14 on 6-of-11 shooting. Christmas added 13 while Andre Adams finished with 12.
• McCants became the latest NM State player to hit the 100-win mark in his career Wednesday night. Before him, Eli Chuha got to triple-digits in terms of total triumphs in the 2018-19 season and prior to Chuha, Ian Baker did so before ending his Aggie career in 2016-17.
• For Jans, he reached the 100-win mark at NM State faster than any other bench boss before him did. It took Jans just 126 games at NM State to get to 100 wins which bettered Lou Henson’s 100-win pace by a single game. The late legendary NM State head coach needed 127 games to hit triple-digits in head coaching wins as the Aggies’ leader.
• NM State moved to 5-1 for the third time in Jans’ tenure as head coach with Wednesday night’s victory. The Aggies previously won five of their first six games with Jans at the helm in 2018-19 and 2017-18.
COMING UP NEXT
• The first of three consecutive rivalry games looms for the Aggies. Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m., in-state rival New Mexico pays a visit to the Pan American Center for the first of two 2021-22 matchups between it and NM State. The Aggies and Lobos will clash for the 225th time that night with the contest being broadcast nationwide on ESPN+ and the ESPN app.