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Aggies Win Opener As Neal Eclipses 1,000 Career Points Mark | bleedCrimson.net :: Your Source for NMSU Aggies Sports News

Aggies Win Opener As Neal Eclipses 1,000 Career Points Mark

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Written by: NMSU Athletic Dept.

IRVINE, CA – Senior forward Sherell Neal became the 16th Aggie ever to score over 1,000 career points as she led the New Mexico State women's basketball team to a 65-61 victory over UC Irvine in NMSU's first game of the season Friday evening at Crawford Court.

Neal finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with 11 rebounds in the victory. Senior forward Anikia Jawara added in 16 points and nine rebounds while junior Tyshae Walton scored 10 points of her own.

Midway through the second half UCI had all the momentum and took a three-point lead, its largest of the game before senior guard Monique Bribiescas took a charge on a UCI fast break opportunity. Neal came right back and knocked down NMSU's (1-0) only 3-pointer of the game and the Aggies got a nine point lead which they never relinquished.

Head coach Darin Spence was thrilled with how his team stayed patient through UCI's runs to get back into the game and found a way to pull out the victory.

"That's called earning a victory," Spence said. "On the road against a lot of adversary and coming out with the win when we're trying to build is huge. We defended and used our athleticism really well tonight."

Neal shot 8-for-12 from the field in the evening where the Aggies shot 40 percent. It was the Aggies tough-nosed defense that really won the game, as NMSU held the Anteaters to just 33. 3 percent shooting from the field and the Aggies forced 26 turnovers.

UC Irvine (0-1) sophomore forward Kelly Cochran led the Anteaters in the loss with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.

New Mexico State and UC Irvine both came out cold offensively at the start of the game. The Aggies started with a scrappy defense and after a Jawara steal, senior guard Monique Bribiescas found a wide open Neal for the layup inside to give NMSU a 12-7 lead six and a half minutes into the game.

Jawara really dominated the first part of the opening half, grabbing several offensive rebounds and she scored eight of the Aggies first 16 points. At 9:17 she passed out of the post to a wide open junior guard Tyshae Walton for the 15-foot jumper to increase NMSU's lead to 18-11.

UCI cut the Aggies lead down to three before NMSU went on a 8-2 run that was capped off by Bribiescas feeding sophomore guard Hannah Spanich along the baseline for the short jumper to push New Mexico State's lead to 26-17 with 3:48 left in the half.

The Anteaters answered back with a 7-0 run of their own thanks to four free throws from sophomore guard Rebecca Maessen in the final minutes, but Walton answered right back for the Aggies with three points and NMSU took a 31-26 lead into the locker room.

Jawara and Neal both finished the half with 10 points each. The Aggies held UCI to just 7-of-30 shooting from the field in the half and they forced 11 turnovers.

UC Irvine started the second half with a 11-5 run and took their first lead of the game at 14:29 when sophomore guard Keyonna Johnson banked in a jumper from the free-throw line.

Two consecutive charging calls against the Aggies and a UCI 3-pointer had really vaulted the momentum to the Anteaters side and they had a three point lead with 11:06 left in the game.

The fact that the Aggies had gotten into early foul troubled added on to Irvine's charge, as the Anteaters where in the double bonus ten minutes into the half.

It wasn't until Bribiescas drew a charge on an UCI fast break that the momentum shifted.

Tied at 46 a piece, Neal was left wide open on the wing and she knocked down the open three for her 1,000th career point. The three was followed up by two straight layups on fast break opportunities and two free throws from junior guard Brittany Henderson upped NMSU lead to nine with just 6:21 remaining.

Irvine ended their two-plus minute drought with a 6-2 run of their own. It would have been more if not for Henderson blocking a Miranda Forry wide open layup on the open court.

However, two straight Anteater buckets in the paint with under two minutes remaining cut NMSU's lead to just two.

After two free throws from freshman Madison Spence and one UCI free throw, the Aggies scored once again on the fast break when Walton dished to Henderson under the hoop to up NMSU's lead to five with just over a minute remaining.

Kelly Cochran cut the Aggies lead to just three with under a minute, and on the ensuing possession the Aggies used a lot of the clock before Jawara was fouled on a jumper in the pain. She made one of the two free throws and New Mexico State closed the deal for the three point victory.

Brittany Henderson finished the game with eight points and 11 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive glass. Madison Spence finished her first career game with eight points and six assists.

The night belonged to Neal in the end with her milestone, as she now stands with 1,004 career points.

"It's a great accomplishment and I'm glad I made it," Neal said. "It was a shock to hear that it happened this soon, but I've worked so hard over the years it's nice that it's paid off."

New Mexico State is now off for 10 days before beginning a five-game home stand against Kent State on Nov. 20 at 7:05 p.m. in the Pan American Center.