LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) – By his own admission, junior forward Johnny McCants had been dealing with some difficulty getting off to a good start as of late for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team.
Thursday night inside the Pan Am Center, McCants started well and never let up. That spelled trouble for Seattle U.
In one of the most dominant nights of his collegiate career, McCants generated a team-high 14 points and completed a monstrous double-double effort by hauling in a career-high 18 rebounds to help lead the Aggies to a scrappy 72-64 victory over the Redhawks.
With the win NM State hit the 20-win mark for the ninth-consecutive season and maintained a three-game lead for the top spot in the WAC standings with five regular season games to go.
• It was McCants who had a major hand in the Aggies’ 10-2 run to begin the game. The junior put in the game’s first five points before NM State’s Terrell Brown capped his team’s surge to start the tilt with one of his two three-pointers.
• NM State continued to keep the Redhawks at arms length through the early stages of the first half. Junior guard Shawn Williams came off the bench and provided an immediate scoring punch for the Aggies, hitting a mid-range floater before heading to the free throw line and completing a three-point play to keep his team in front, 18-13, with 11:22 to go.
• Coming in averaging close to 80 points per game in WAC action, however, the Redhawks fought. Aaron Nettles capped a 5-0 Seattle U run with a three-pointer that knotted matters at 18-all, but the Aggies answered with a 7-0 surge to regain the lead.
• Evan Gilyard II hit Williams for another three before the Chicago, Ill., product made good on a pair of free throw attempts with 9:21 left that pushed NM State’s lead to 25-18.
• A dunk from McCants and another long ball from Williams handed the Aggies a 36-25 lead with 3:14 left in the frame, but Mattia Da Campo pulled the trigger from deep to start a 5 -1 run to end the break for the Redhawks. That surge allowed Seattle U to cut the Aggies’ lead to 37-30 at the break.
• One of the main reasons the Redhawks’ offense struggled to get much going was due to the absence of Terrell Brown. The WAC’s leading scorer was held to just 10 minutes in the opening half after picking up a trio of personal fouls.
• Brown’s offensive game didn’t help the Redhawks’ cause, either, as he went 0-for-4 from the field. Seattle U made up for his absence by slinging in 50-percent (6-of-12) of its three-pointers in the half.
• Though the Aggies never lost their grip on the lead, Seattle U remained within striking distance for the remainder of the night. A 7-2 run by the Redhawks to start the second half cut the Aggies’ lead to 39-37, and though that was as close as Seattle U would get NM State was never able to fully pull away.
• Four of the six points NM State put in during its 6-2 run to answer came courtesy of Gilyard II. His free throw make with 14:10 left pushed the Aggies’ lead back out to 45-39.
• For each bucket the Redhawks had, NM State had an answer. Whether it was Shunn Buchanan’s wing three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer to put the Aggies up 50-44 with 10:50 left or Jabari Rice’ put-back layup that kept NM State in front 56-49 with 6:52 left, the Aggies always responded.
• Down the home stretch, though, it was Ivan Aurrecoechea, McCants and Rice who pulled NM State across the finish line. Eleven of the Aggies’ final 16 points over the last 6:10 were put in by Aurrecoechea who started a 10-4 NM State run with a pair of free throw makes. The Spaniard was just too strong down on the block and powered a 10-4 run that pushed his team’s lead to double-digits, 66-55, with 3:41 left.
• Nettles and Dallas Jordan put a scare into the NM State faithful by connecting on three-pointers that cut the Aggies’ lead down to 68-64 with 1:41 left, but the Redhawks wouldn’t score again from there. McCants came up with a huge blocked shot on one of Seattle U’s last three possessions and two free throws apiece by Aurrecoechea and Rice sealed the deal for the WAC leaders.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
• McCants led what was a balanced scoring attack for the Aggies as five NM State players finished with 10 or more points in the team’s fifth-consecutive victory over the Redhawks. Aurrecoechea put in all 11 of his points in the second half while Gilyard and Rice chipped in 10 apiece.
• Of particular note was Williams who turned in nine of his 11 points in the opening frame. His bench production helped the Aggies finished with an 18-11 edge in bench scoring.
• Brown finished with nine points in 21 minutes of action and drilled two of the Aggies’ seven three-pointers in the win.
• Once again the Aggies enjoyed a substantial edge in free throws attempted and free throws made. NM State went 21-of-25 (84-percent) from the stripe while the Redhawks converted 12 of their 17 attempts (70.6-percent) from that distance.
• The Redhawks’ Brown finished with a game-high 16 points and totaled four of his team’s 10 assists as well as a game-high four steals. Means (10) and Da Campo (10) also finished with double-digit points in Seattle U’s first road loss in the last three games.
• NM State remained perfect in WAC play with the win and pushed the nation’s fourth-longest active winning streak to 14 games.
• Head coach Chris Jans is one of five NM State head coaches who have led the Aggies to multiple 20-win seasons. In each of his three seasons in Las Cruces the Aggies have hit or exceeded the 20-win mark. Only Neil McCarthy (seven), Marvin Menzies (seven) and Lou Henson (eight) have posted more 20-win seasons in the history of the program than Jans.
COMING UP NEXT
• NM State continues its three-game home stand Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. when the Aggies play host to Utah Valley in another WAC contest. The Aggies can take a step toward claiming a sixth WAC title when they take on the Wolverines with the member of the 1969-70 Final Four team in attendance for the 50th anniversary of the event.