Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.
PHOENIX, AZ - The New Mexico State men’s basketball team pulled away late in the game with a 70-59 victory on the road over Grand Canyon thanks to its lock-down defense that held the Lopes to just 22 points in the second-half Thursday evening in GCU Arena.
“Our guys have developed a road toughness about them which is exciting to watch,” Aggie head coach Chris Jans said. “They were learning to understand that when you defend and rebound, you always give yourself a chance regardless of the environment.”
NM State is now 8-2 against GCU all-time after the win and 3-2 on the road. The win was also its first win at GCU Arena since 2015, 72-55.
Both teams were unsuccessful on their first possession on offense before Johnathon Wilkins drained a 3-pointer from the far wing. NM State (14-3, 2-0 WAC) scored once again on its next possession when Wilkins found a slashing Jemerrio Jones before the Lopes cut the Aggie lead to 9-7 at the first media break.
After 10-straight points from Zach Lofton, behind a pair of triples, a 7-0 lead capped off by a great pass from AJ Harris to Jones on the baseline forced GCU to call a timeout with NM State on top 21-11 and 11:30 on the clock.
After a 13-4 run by the Aggies, GCU (11-6, 1-1 WAC) answered back with a 12-4 of its own with some different defenses and cut the NM State lead to 33-31 with 3:45 left to play in the first half. Turnovers continued to plague the Aggies, leading to 14 points for GCU as it went on an 18-8 run to close out the half and sent both teams into the locker room knotted at 37-37 despite NM State owning the battle of the boards 22-8.
Lofton continued to put the team on his shoulders in the second stanza, scoring nine of the team’s 13 points in the first 9:10 minutes of action.
Heading out of the 10:50 media timeout and tied at 50-50, the Aggies were able to reclaim their edge on defense and went on a 10-5 run. That short run capped off by a great finger-roll from Eli Chuha forced the Lopes to call another timeout with 5:14 left to play and NM State on top 60-55.
NM State’s defense flexed its muscle in hostile territory and held GCU to just 3-of-21 from the field after the game was tied at 50-50 to secure the 70-59 victory.
Redshirt freshman Johnny McCants had several key plays during that stretch, including key rebounds and a block with 6:59 left to play.
Despite sitting out for a majority of the second-half, Jones finished with six points and 15 rebounds. Lofton led all scorers with 29 points on 8-of-15 shooting and a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe while AJ Harris added 11 points and six rebounds.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Aggies doubled up the Lopes on the boards 50-25, including 14 offensive boards that led to a 17-10 edge in second-chance points…NM State also finished the game with a 34-24 advantage in the paint…NM State finished the game shooting 46.4-percent from the floor compared to GCU’s 34.4-percent and is now 12-0 when it shoots at a higher clip than its opponents…this is the ninth time Lofton has recorded 20-plus points in a game.
The Aggies stay on the road and squares off against CSU Bakersfield two days later on Saturday, Jan. 13, in an 8 p.m. tip-off on ESPN3. Saturday’s contest will be a rematch of last year’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship game, which NM State prevailed 70-60 at Orleans Arena to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.