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NMSU Men's Basketball Downs Illinois 74-69 | bleedCrimson.net :: Your Source for NMSU Aggies Sports News

NMSU Men's Basketball Downs Illinois 74-69

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Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

CHICAGO, IL - It was only fitting on a night where both New Mexico State and Illinois were set to honor legendary head coach Lou Henson that the Aggies gutted out a 74-69 win Saturday night over the Illini at the United Center – giving NM State its first win over a Big Ten Conference foe since Henson did it in 2004.

Oddly enough, that win in 2004 was against Northwestern – another team from Illinois on a neutral floor at the BP Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska.

After a bad start in the second-half, New Mexico State (9-2) saw its once 15-point lead from the first half dwindle and dissipate with 10:15 left to play when Aaron Jordan hit a pair of free-throws and gave Illinois (8-5) the 45-43 lead.

However, NM State battle back and tied the game up twice, including a short-lived 53-52 lead on a 3-pointer from Zach Lofton. A layup and 3-pointer from the grad transfer saw NM State go up 58-57 with 6:25 remaining in the game.

The Aggies would not relinquish that lead the rest of the game, but did have a couple scares when Illinois tied things up on a corner three from Trent Frazier at the 3:35 mark and then again at the 1:19 mark on a put-back from Leron Black.

Jans immediately called the timeout after Black’s layup in an attempt to strip the momentum away from Illinois and regroup his squad. A critical steal by Jemerrio Jones led to an AJ Harris and-1 that put the Aggies up for good – 72-69.

A missed free-throw from Lofton gave the Illini an opportunity to tie the game up with a three before Chuha’s free-throws solidified the 74-69 win with three seconds remaining.

After going down 8-2 to start the game, New Mexico State roared back with 15-0 run that held Illinois without a field-goal for 5:55 minutes until Jordan found his way to the hole (10:11). The lead for NM State continued to expand and led by as much as 32-17 before heading into the locker room with a 38-26 lead.

The Aggies had a balanced attack with seven different players that half, while shooting at a 50-percent rate (17-for-34) after starting the game 1-for-7. NM State also led the Illini 20-16 in the paint and converted seven Illinois turnovers into 12 points for the halftime lead.

As well as the run for NM State was in the first half, Illinois had just the same success out of halftime, blitzing the Aggies with a 10-0 run thanks in part to an 0-for-6 stretch by the New Mexico State – which cut its lead to 38-36.

Lofton finished with a game-high 23 points, his sixth game this season with 20-plus points. Harris chipped in with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting while Chuha added 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Jones added 11 points and 13 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season along with four steals – none more critical than the one that gave NM State the go-ahead lead.

With the win, New Mexico State is now 2-1 against Power 5 programs since last season…the Aggies were 0-14 the previous 10 seasons from 2006-16…NM State took advantage of the 13 Illini turnovers, converting them into 20 points whereas Illinois only mustered eight points off 11 Aggie turnovers…NM State is now 9-0 when tallying more assists than its opponents.

"I am sure the folks back in Las Cruces are enjoying this win and celebrating this win. We didn't talk about any historical significance. We talked about what an opportunity on a big a stage to show what these kids are about. I thought they did it. I thought they stuck together and I thought they continued to compete." – Aggie head coach Chris Jans.

The Aggies return home for a short stint before taking off for the 2017 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22, 23 & 25). NM State is scheduled to take on Davidson in the opening round at 9 p.m. (MT) on ESPNU.