The New Mexico State men's basketball team is headed back to the Big Dance after knocking off top seeded Utah State 69-63 in the championship game of the WAC Tournament on Saturday night.
Fueled by 19 points from leading scorer Jahmar Young who finished with 19 points, the Aggies erased a five point second half deficit to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
New Mexico State and Utah State were deadlocked in a tight battle throughout the first half as the two teams were tied 10-10 with 12:58 left in the first half. The UtAgs would hold a four point lead at 18-14 with 7:35 left in the half but the Aggies would answer with a 7-0 run to take a 21-18 lead with 5:33 left in the first half.
Utah State would tie the game at 21 on a three pointer by Jared Quayle who would finish the first half with 14 points. The Aggies would score four unanswered points to take a 25-21 lead with 4:05 left in the first half. Utah State would go on a 5-0 run to retake the lead at 26-25 with 2:59 left to play in the half but the Aggies' Jahmar Young would hit a three pointer with 1:35 left in the half to give the Aggies a 28-26 lead which they would take to the half.
In the second half the Aggies would come out slow as Utah State would go on an 11-4 run to take a five point lead at 37-32 with 16:39 left to play. New Mexico State would answer the UtAgs run with a 6-0 run to retake the lead 38-37 with 14:50 left. Utah State would again go on a 5-0 run and retake the lead after a three pointer from Jared Quayle followed by a jumper from Tai Wesley gave Utah State a 42-38 lead. New Mexico State would tie things up at 44 apiece with 9:54 left but the UtAgs would go on a 7-2 run and push their lead to 51-46 with 8:06 left to play.
Jahmar Young would hit a big three pointer to pull the Aggies back to within a bucket at 51-49 and then just a minute later the Aggies would tie things up at 53 on a dunk by Hamidu Rahman. The Aggies would take the lead with 5:19 left on a jumper from Jonathan Gibson but Utah State's Tai Wesley would hit a pair of free throws to tie things up again at 55 with 4:45 left to play.
Troy Gillenwater would nail a three pointer off a drive-and-dish by Jonathan Gibson to give the Aggies a 58-55 lead with 4:23 left to play and then the Aggies' Jahmar Young would hit a jumper to give the Aggies a 60-55 lead with 3:56 left to play. A quick timeout by Utah State would see the UtAgs cut the lead to three at 60-57 but Wendell McKines would answer with a jumper to push the lead back out to five at 62-57. After the under four minute media timeout came with 2:26 left to play, Jahmar Young would get fouled and hit one of two free throws to put the Aggies up 63-57. Utah State's Jared Quayle would hit a jumper to cut the Aggie lead to four at 63-59 with 1:32 left to play but an alley-oop dunk by Troy Gillenwater from Jahmar Young on a fast break gave the Aggies a 65-59 lead with 1:24 left to play. Utah State would once again cut the Aggies' lead to four points after a Nate Bendall layup but Jahmar Young would hit a jumper with 39 seconds left to give the Aggies a 67-61 lead. Jared Quayle would hit a jumper with 17 seconds left to cut the Aggies' lead to four at 67-63 but Hernst Laroche would hit a pair of free throws to give the Aggies a six point lead with 14 second left. The UtAgs would have the ball for the final 14 seconds but two missed shots by the UtAgs would allow time to expire as New Mexico State players exploded off the bench to celebrate with the players on the court.
Jahmar Young finished the game with 19 points and was named WAC Tournament MVP. Young finished the night 8-of-18 from the field and 2-of-2 from three point distance. Troy Gillenwater followed up his outstanding performance on Friday night against Nevada with another strong outing finishing with 15 points, four rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist. He shot 6-of-12 from the field and 1-of-2 from three point distance. Jonathan Gibson, the team's lone scholarship senior and playing in his final WAC Tournament, finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He did not hit a three point shot on the night but had four assists and two rebounds.
Jared Quayle paced Utah State and led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting and 3-of-5 from behind the three point arc. Tai Wesley finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds and Nate Bendall added 16 points. The UtAgs outrebounded New Mexico State 36-28. The two teams combined for just 14 turnovers, nine by Utah State and a season low five by NM State.
Neither team shot well in the first half as NM State hit 11-of-30 shots (36.7 percent) and Utah State hit 9-of-24 (37.5 percent). The two teams heated up in the second half as New Mexico State hit a sizzling 62.1 percent of their shots connecting on 18-of-29 attempts from the field. Utah State hit 16-of-31 shots good for 51.6 percent. The two teams hit just 7-of-27 three point attempts on the night as NM State went 3-of-11 and Utah State finished 4-of-16.
New Mexico State improves to 22-11 on the season and will await the announcement of their opponent in the NCAA Tournament while Utah State falls to 27-7 and must sweat out the Selection Sunday show and hope for an at-large bid.
The Aggies will find out their opponent as the 65-team field is announced on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. MT on CBS.