LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The Battle of I-25 was just that – a battle – as host New Mexico State owned a four-point lead with 2:22 to go, but fell to rival New Mexico 78-77 as Shunn Buchanan’s desperation heave went wide as time expired.
The 223rd meeting between the pair of age-old in-state rivals featured its fair share of punches and counterpunches, but the 12th and final lead change of the game with less than one minute remaining snapped the Aggies’ five-game winning streak over their hated adversaries. The last 30 seconds, however, was one that left fans on both sides with frayed nerves. Each team committed a pair of throwaways that proved the Battle of I-25 in infrequently without drama.
• Hoping to quiet a raucous pro-Aggie congregation, New Mexico threw the first punch with a 6-2 run through the first 1:43. From there, however, the hosts began to give their crowd something to cheer about.
• Over the course of 6:26, New Mexico State embarked on a 20-7 scoring spree that turned the tide in favor of the home squad. Shawn Williams and Trevelin Queen each laced three-pointers through that surge while the latter threw down a crowd-pleasing dunk to ignite the Aggie faithful.
Jabari Rice split a pair at the foul line with 11:21 left in the frame to hike the hosts’ edge to 22-13, but the Aggies lead would get no larger than that.
• Though New Mexico State took a lead into the locker room at the break, their teal-clad rivals made sure it wasn’t a large one. The main culprit behind the Lobos’ comeback was Jaquan Lyle who scored 10 of the Lobos’ final 14 points through the last 5:32 of the frame.
• The high-scoring guard’s scoring outburst was countered by four points apiece from Ivan Aurrecoechea and Rice to make sure the home team didn’t fall behind, but Zane Martinez made it a one-possession game headed into the break with a one-handed runner in the lane. That bucket made matters 39-37 at the half in favor of the Aggies.
• The three-point line was a friend to nobody in the opening 20 minutes as the teams combined to go 6-of-27 (.222) from long range. Each squad, however, countered that by shooting 80-percent at the foul line and north of 43-percent from the field as a whole.
• A five-point burst by CJ Bobbitt culminated with a downtown splashdown which handed the hosts a 44-39 edge through the first 1:39 of the frame. That long-range make was one of the rare ones for the home teams in half number two, though, as New Mexico State went only 4-of-16 from beyond the arc.
• Makuach Maluach pushed the visitors in front for the first time since the opening half with a fast-break layup that made matters 47-46 with 16:21 left, but Queen put the finishing touches on a 5-0 Aggie run with a massive jam to give the hosts the momentum once again.
• Queen’s throw down made it a four-point edge for New Mexico State, but the Aggies could never extend their lead beyond that. New Mexico relied on an 18-10 run which was capped by a Corey Manigault layup with 6:58 left to give the visitors a 67-63 edge.
• The lead changed hands three times over the next 1:41, including when Buchanan fed Rice for an uncontested layup on an inbounds play that pushed the Aggies in front 70-69.
• Coming up huge with a pair of impressive hustle plays, Johnny McCants broke a 71-71 deadlock by tossing down a put-back jam with 3:12 to go. His steal on the ensuing New Mexico possession put the ball back in the Aggies hands, and Queen drilled a pair of free throws with 2:22 to go to hand the hosts a 75-71 lead.
• A three-point play by JJ Caldwell was countered with a baseline jumper by Terrell Brown to keep the Aggies ahead, 77-76, with 1:17 to go, but a loose ball foul with 49 seconds left send Bragg to the foul line where he converted his two tries to put the Lobos on top the rest of the way.
• Aurrecochea and Buchanan each registered steals in the final 26 seconds to give the Aggies multiple chances, but those trips ended with a turnover and a missed three-pointer. Caldwell bricked a free throw try with four seconds to go, and Brown grabbed the rebound and fed Buchanan, but his desperation shot was off the mark.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
• In his first showdown against the Lobos, Queen poured in a team-high 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting and finished one rebound shy of a double-double after he snared a game-high nine. Jaquan Lyle poured in a game-high 24 points.
COMING UP NEXT
• For the first time in program history, the Aggies head out of the country to take part in some regular season roundball action. New Mexico State heads to the Cayman Islands where it will be one of eight teams taking part in the third-annual Cayman Islands Classic which runs from Monday through Wednesday. First up for the Aggies is a 9:00 a.m. MT showdown against Colorado State Monday