NMSU begins WAC play 0-2 with 65-53 loss to GCU

NMSU

PHOENIX, AZ (KTSM) – The New Mexico State (NMSU) men’s basketball team isn’t used to being swept, but that’s exactly what happened over the weekend against Grand Canyon (GCU). The Antelopes using another balanced scoring attack to beat the Aggies for a second consecutive game, 65-53, on Saturday night at GCU Arena.

“We talked to our team about how big of a game this was,” said NMSU head coach Chris Jans. “We said, ‘Hey, this is a huge game for us after losing last night. We’ve got to find a way to eke out a win and split this first WAC series.’ Obviously that wasn’t the result, and it’s disappointing.”

Asbjorn Midtgaard recorded a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) while Alessandro Lever added 12 points for the Antelopes (12-3, 6-0 WAC). Jovan Blacksher chipped in with 11 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in GCU’s eighth straight win.

The Aggies (3-3, 0-2 WAC), who had their 34-game Western Athletic Conference (WAC) win streak snapped on Friday night, shot the basketball with more effectiveness on Saturday, but never found their touch from three point range and fizzled down the stretch leading to numerous forced shots. NMSU shot 36.5 percent (19-of-52) from the field and went just 7-of-31 from beyond the arc.

“I think we have plenty of guys who can score the ball,” said Jans. “Kids are human. Everybody’s human. When you don’t shoot the ball very well and it becomes an issue, it affects how you do everything else.”

Wilfried Likayi paced NMSU with 13 points while Jabari Rice and Donnie Tillman scored 11 points apiece.

NMSU will now look ahead to their series against Cal Baptist, a series that is scheduled to be played back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. However, due to state guidelines, the Aggies are unable to host these games at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces. While an official announcement has yet to be made on where the games will be played, sources tell KTSM 9 Sports that Eastwood High School is the most likely venue for next week’s series against the Lancers.

TALE OF THE TAPE: FIRST HALF (via NM State Athletics)
• In a series of events which was eerily similar to Friday night’s WAC showdown, Wilfried Likayi came out of the gates scorching hot. The junior converted two layups and drilled a three-pointer to account for all of the Aggies’ point during their 7-2 run to start the game.
• Much like Friday night, however, the Lopes had an answer for the Aggies’ early successes. GCU took off on a 10-2 run over the next 3:04 to take the lead for good. Asbjørn Mitgaard called buckets on a pair of layups while Chance McMillan ended the run with the second of GCU’s five three-pointers on the night.
• Two free throw makes by Donnie Tillman following McMillan’s triple pulled NM State within one, 12-11, but that was as close as the Aggies would get to regaining the lead.
• NM State did shoot 44-percent (11-of-25) from the field in the opening half, but a 4-of-15 (26.7-percent) long range rate didn’t help matters.
• It was the Lopes’ sustained bursts of offense which kept the Aggies at a disadvantage for the rest of the night. Jabari Rice connected on a three-pointer to pull his squad back within two, 21-19, with 9:07 to go in the frame, but a 6-0 GCU spurt pushed its lead back to eight.
• Another Tillman score – this one a layup – cut the Lopes’ lead to 29-26 with 4:27 remaining in the half, but GCU executed well after the final media time out of the half to extend its lead.
• The Lopes ended the half on a 7-2 run to take a 36-28 lead into the locker room at the break.

TALE OF THE TAPE: SECOND HALF (via NM State Athletics)
• GCU made a push to put the Aggies away for good with a 9-0 surge through the first 3:05 of the frame. Staring a 45-28 deficit squarely in the face, NM State battled back.
• Gilyard II and Henry connected on back-to-back long balls to kick-start an 11-0 NM State surge which breathed a renewed sense of energy into the home team. Henry wrapped up the sizable surge by dishing out to Rice on the corner who swished a three-pointer to cut the Lopes’ edge to 45-39 with 13:53 to play.
• GCU, unfortunately, righted the ship shortly thereafter by feeding Mitgaard down low. The daunting Dane hit layups on consecutive possessions, hiking the Lopes’ lead back to double-digits, 49-39, with 13:03 left.
• Over the last 13:52, NM State’s shooting woes came to the forefront of things. The Aggies sank just four more field goals through that span which allowed GCU to keep them at bay for the rest of the night.

KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE (via NM State Athletics)
• Likayi finished with a team-high 13 points for NM State while Rice (11) and Tillman (11) also contributed double-digit scoring efforts to the Aggies’ cause.
• Mitgaard turned in a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double to lead the charge for the league-leading Lopes who ran their winning streak to seven games.
• The Aggies’ ball movement was crisper than it was Friday night as NM State finished with 12 assists on 19 made field goals. Still, NM State’s inability to fire accurately from the field hurt – especially in the second half.
• NM State went 8-of-27 (29.6-percent) from the field through the final 20 minutes of action which included an 18.8-percent (3-of-16) mark from long range.
• Saturday’s setback was just the second time in head coach Chris Jans‘ tenure in which NM State has lost back-to-back WAC regular season tilts.

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