Aggies Open WAC Play By Beating Utah State 55-52

Jonathan GibsonNew Mexico State opened up league play with a 55-52 victory over visiting Utah State on Saturday night to improve to 8-6 overall but more importantly 1-0 in league play. The Aggies have won five straight games and snapped Utah State's four game win streak. Utah State held a 9-3 lead with 14:53 left to play but New Mexico State responded with a 17-4 run over the next six minutes to take a 20-13 lead. Utah State went on a 9-2 run over the next four minutes. New Mexico State outscored Utah State 5-2 over the final 3:50 of the half and took a 27-24 lead into halftime.

Coming out of the break the UtAgs took a 32-31 lead with 15:28 left to play but the southern Aggies went on an 8-0 run spurred by five quick points from Jonathan Gibson and a three pointer from Gordo Castillo to take a 39-32 lead. Utah State would cut the lead to three at 39-36 but with 11:03 left to play a thunderous one-handed dunk from just below the free throw line by Wendell McKines gave the Aggies a 41-36 lead. McKines was also fouled on the play and made the free throw for the old-fashioned three point play. That dunk spurred a 12-6 run by New Mexico State over the next 4:11 as the Aggies took a 53-42 lead with 6:52 left to play capped by a Gordo Castillo jumper.

New Mexico State would go on a nearly six and a half minute scoring drought as it seemed as though the Aggie offense was playing to milk the clock. That allowed Utah State to outscore the Aggies 10-0 during that stretch and cut the New Mexico State lead to just one point at 53-52. With memories of the 2008 WAC final floating to the surface for Aggies fans, Jonathan Gibson took the ball out of a timeout with 35 seconds left and with under 20 seconds left he buried a jumper from just above the free throw line to give the Aggies a three point lead at 55-52. Utah State called a timeout with 12 seconds left and New Mexico State came out of the time out and played one of their best defensive possessions of the night forcing Pooh Williams to take a contested three pointer with three seconds left. Wendell McKines grabbed his fifth rebound of the game to seal the New Mexico State win.

Jonathan Gibson led the way for the Aggies scoring a game high 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 from three point distance. Wendell McKines added 10 points to his five rebounds and was 3-of-5 from the floor and 2-of-2 from behind the three point arc. His only other field goal was the highlight reel dunk in the second half. McKines was also 2-of-3 from the free throw stripe. Jahmar Young scored just nine points on the evening and was just 4-of-11 from the field. Hamidu Rahman grabbed a game high 11 rebounds including six offensive boards. Hernst Laroche scored three points and had two assists and three steals.

The Aggies forced 15 Utah State turnovers and had nine steals. The game saw only 15 free throws shot and just 25 fouls called and neither team was in the bonus in the second half.

Utah State was led by Tai Wesley who scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Tyler Newbold scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds. New Mexico State limited Utah State's Jared Quayle and Nate Bendall to four points each, 10 points below each player's season average.

Utah State hit just 2-of-13 three point attempts but hit 23-of-48 field goals good for 47.1 percent. New Mexico State hit 21-of-49 field goals and was 6-of-16 from behind the three point arc.

The Aggies take on Nevada on Monday night. The Wolf Pack fell to Louisiana Tech 77-71. Utah State travels to Ruston to take on the Bulldogs.