NMSU cruises to 62-51 win over UC Irvine in first home game in 615 days

NMSU

LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) — Teddy Allen scored a game-high 14 points, Jabari Rice and Mario McKinney Jr. each added 12 points apiece, as New Mexico State captured their first win inside the Pan American Center in 615 days, 62-51 over UC Irvine on Tuesday night.

Will McNair Jr. and Donnie Tillman each added 10 points in a win over one of the favorites in the Big West Conference this season. New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans improved to 44-3 at the Pan American Center, including 5-0 in home openers.

“I’m really happy that we played this game because it was a test. It tested us is a lot of ways,” Jans said. “It exposed us and that’s what these early season games do. You get exposed and now myself, our staff and certainly the players are going to know what we need to work on.”

The Aggies started fast, leading by eight points in the first half and 30-25 at halftime as the Aggies flexed their depth, playing 10 players.

The second half was much more of a slog, as UC Irvine’s zone defense limited the Aggies’ offense to just 36% shooting. However, NMSU proved to be solid defensively once again, holding the Anteaters to just 30.6% from the field for the game.

NMSU used an 11-3 run over the final five minutes of the second half to put the game away. Allen and McKinney keyed the late Aggies, trading off with floaters in the paint on back-to-back possessions, before Allen drilled a dagger three out of the corner with 90 seconds remaining.

The late run helped secure what could be a marquee win on the Aggies’ resume come NCAA Tournament time, over a team that also harbors hopes of punching a ticket to the Big Dance.

“It’s the first game and it wasn’t as perfect as we wanted it to be, but as we keep progressing, I don’t feel like anyone will be able to play with us,” said NMSU point guard Mario McKinney.

NMSU was one of just two teams that did not play at home in 2020-21 due to COVID-19 restrictions in the state of New Mexico. The return to the court was a welcome site for the Aggies and their fans and there’s more to come very soon.

New Mexico State returns to the floor on Saturday night when they host Battle of I-10 rival UTEP for the first time since 2019. Tip-off at the Pan American Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT, as Jans will battle old friend Joe Golding for the first time in Golding’s tenure at UTEP.

NMSU has won nine of the last 10 games over UTEP. It’s expected to be another difficult early season test for the Aggies and the Miners alike.

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