NMSU Men's Basketball Advances To WAC Tournament Semifinals With 97-70 Win Over Chicago State

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

LAS VEGAS, NV - Balanced scoring and hot shooting from 3-point land saw the New Mexico State men’s basketball team roll past the No. 8-seeded Chicago State Cougars 97-70 in front of a large Aggie contingent at Orleans Arena Thursday night.

The win gave NM State its 27th win in Western Athletic Conference Tournament history, tying it with UTEP (27-15) for the most wins tournament history.

The Aggie (26-5) offense was firing on all cylinders Thursday in their quarterfinal match-up against the Cougars, jumping out to a 16-4 lead after Jemerrio Jones put in the easy bucket. Out of the media break, Johnathon Wilkins knocked down three-straight shots before Las Cruces native Joe Garza drained a corner three – which sent the Aggie fans in Orleans Arena bonkers – for the 28-12 lead.

From there, Zach Lofton got hot from the offensive end and scored 11 of the next 17 points for NM State as it took a 45-26 lead into the break. The graduate transfer finished the first 20 minutes of action with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting before finishing the game with 21 points.

Chicago State (3-29) chipped away at the Aggie lead in the second-half and brought it down to as low as 60-48 with 11:17 left to play when a steal by CSU’s Travon Bell led to a short jumper from Jelani Pruitt.

As much of an offensive spark Lofton was for NM State in the first half, Keyon Jones did his best to do the same in the second stanza. The junior led the 14-2 run for NM State with back-to-back-to-back triples for the 74-50 advantage at the 7:08 media break.

New Mexico State’s bench didn’t miss a beat out of that timeout, shooting 7-of-10 from the field for 23 points. Sidy N’Dir gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game with 35 ticks left in the game when knocked down a pair of free-throws before eventually winning 97-70.

All 12 Aggies that saw action on the floor scored at least three points and made one field-goal with head coach Chris Jans able to unload his entire bench. Lofton, who led all scorers with 21 points, was 8-of-16 from the field with four treys while Keyon Jones drained six 3-pointers for 18 points. Wilkins rounded out the list of double-digit scorers with 10 points and four rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting.

Jones, the Western Athletic Conference reigning Player of the Year, was two points shy of his 19th double-double this season with eight points and 15 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.

Thursday’s 51.4-percent shooting from the field was the 12th time NM State has shot 50-percent or better in a game and the fourth-straight game with a .500 shooting clip or better…the 14 shots from downtown was the second-most this season for the Aggies...NM State’s 14 made 3-pointers was also one shy of the WAC Tournament single-game record of 15 set by Colorado State against SMU in 1997…with 36 made field-goals on Thursday, NM State has notched 30-plus field-goals in four-straight contests and five of the last six…the 51 rebounds was also the sixth time this season NM State has pulled down 50 or more boards in a single-game.

"In the first half, we executed our game plan. The last time we played them, we didn't execute our game plan that Coach (Chris) Jans gave us. Tonight, I feel we did a lot better in the first half. Second half was a little iffy. Got to get to the next one.” –Aggie guard Zach Lofton

With the win, New Mexico State moves on to the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament where it’ll take on the winner between the No. 4-seed Seattle U or the No. 5-seed UTRGV at 9:30 p.m. (MT)/8:30 p.m. (PT) local time on Friday, March 9, on ESPN3. Mychal Clanton will once again have the call for Friday night’s semifinal action while Sed Bonner serves as the analyst and Rachel Vigil as the sideline reporter.