NMSU Men's Basketball Edge Rival UTEP 72-63

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Despite a slow start to the game, the New Mexico State men’s basketball team never wavered and captured the 72-63 win over Battle of I-10 rival UTEP Saturday night at the Pan American Center. NM State has now won six-consecutive games against the Miners (1-4) and nine of the last 10.

With the win, Aggie head coach Chris Jans joins eight other head coaches in school history to beat UTEP (1-4) in their first try. He also joins Ken Hayes, Lou Henson and Paul Weir as the only first-year head coaches to beat both New Mexico and UTEP in their first try at home.

The first-half of the Battle of I-10 started off a little sluggish for both teams with the contest tied four separate times. Neither team shot well from the floor either with NM State (4-1) shooting 37-percent and UTEP shooting 37.5-percent.

However, the turning point in the game occurred after the final media time out at the 3:41 mark in the first half and the game tied at 20-20. Eli Chuha then jump-started the offense with a 3-pointer from the far wing followed by an offensive board and put-back, which forced UTEP head coach Tim Floyd to call a timeout.

NM State’s offense continued to roll from that point on with a triple from Zach Lofton before heading into the locker room with a 29-22 advantage. UTEP kept things close in first half by converting 10 Aggie turnovers for nine points.

The second-half was a different story for New Mexico State offensively. The Aggies shot 50-percent from the floor to UTEP’s 36.4-percent, including five treys.

Johnathon Wilkins and Sidy N’Dir were the spark plugs for the Aggies heading into the first media timeout, scoring the first 11 points. After a thunderous jam by Las Cruces native Johnny McCants, six-straight points from Lofton gave NM State its largest lead, 51-37, with 11:56 left to play.

The Miners slowly clawed back into the game after six-consecutive free-throws capped off by two from Omega Harris – which cut the Aggie lead down to 55-49 with 5:07 remaining. Layups from Lofton and AJ Harris pushed the lead back into the double-digits, but UTEP kept chipping away at the lead back down to single-digits.

However, the Miners would only get as close as 68-62 with 52 seconds remaining before NM State knocked down its shots at the charity stripe to secure the rivalry win.

Lofton finished with a game-high 18 points with eight rebounds while N’Dir chipped in with 13 points and four rebounds. Wilkins rounded things out with 10 points, all in the second-half, four rebounds and three assists.

Chuha chipped in with nine points and seven boards while McCants finished with five points and seven boards. Hindered by foul trouble, Jemerrio Jones was kept scoreless but managed to pull down seven rebounds with four assists.

NM State out-rebounded the Miners on the glass 46-31…the Aggies have now dished out 12-plus assists in all five games this season with 14 Saturday…NM State now with back-to-back games with 10-plus 3-pointers for the first time since doing so against Idaho (1/11/14) at home and Chicago State (1/16/14) on the road.

“We had a goal for this particular game to be under 40 percent field goal percentage defense. We accomplished that and we felt like we had a size advantage with Wilms and (Trey) Wade out as well. We felt like we should have controlled the backboards and for the most part, we did a good job of that too.” – Aggie head coach Chris Jans

The Aggies will hit the road for their next game, however, it won’t be very as they drive down the road to take on Battle of I-10 foe UTEP once again. This time, it’ll be at the Don Haskins Center for an 8 p.m. tip on Watch Stadium, which will be aired on Facebook LIVE only.