NMSU Men's Basketball Defeats Grand Canyon 72-58 In WAC Title Game

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

LAS VEGAS - As the clock ticked down in the final moments of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship game, first-year Aggie head coach Chris Jans looked each of his assistants in the eye and congratulated them one-by-one before letting out a roar of jubilation while facing the sea of screaming Aggie fans as they watched the New Mexico State men’s basketball team punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 72-58 win over Grand Canyon Saturday night at Orleans Arena.

The win gave NM State its eighth WAC Tournament title and six of the last seven. Meanwhile, Jans became the third head coach in program history to lead the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in his first-year at the helm. Jans was also the fourth head coach in New Mexico State history to capture a WAC Tournament title since it joined the WAC in 2005-06. The 28-5 overall record for NM State ties the program win mark in a single-season and ties Jans for the most wins by any first-year Aggie head coach.

Jemerrio Jones was named the WAC Tournament MVP after averaging 18.3 rebounds and 12.3 points while also breaking tournaments rebounding record of 53 set by Boise State’s Jason Ellis in 2005. Jones finished the tournament with 55 rebounds and did it in just three games while Ellis did it in four games. Zach Lofton joined Jones on the all-tournament team with 24.3 points per game.

The championship game that everyone was hoping for was everything as advertised on defense with seven lead changes in the game by the 11:58 media break of the first half. The seventh lead change saw NM State trail GCU (22-11) heading into the break on a 3-pointer from the Lopes’ Alessandro Lever.

Staunch defense curtailed both teams on the offensive end, but a smooth move to a rack followed by a steal and lay-in from AJ Harris knotted things up at 18 heading into the final media break with 2:59 on the clock.

The back-to-back baskets from Lofton and Harris heading into that media break jump-started the Aggie offense as it blitzed the GCU defense with a 19-4 run to end the half to lead 33-22. That offensive outburst for New Mexico State was capped off by a great final shot from Lofton on the drive and dish from Shunn Buchanan.

Jones continued his tear on the court, recording his 20th double-double of the season with 47 seconds remaining in the first frame when he hit a pair of free-throws for 10 points and 14 boards at halftime. The senior finished the night with 17 points and 18 rebounds.

After Johnathon Wilkins opened the second-half with a corner three, Grand Canyon cut the Aggie lead to 36-30 behind an 8-0 run and forced NM State to call a timeout. From there New Mexico State got its bearings back pushed its lead into double-digits and pushed it into double-digits every time the Lopes would cut the lead to single-digits.

A 7-0 by Grand Canyon got it within 50-47 of New Mexico State, but it would not be enough as New Mexico State finished out the game with a 22-11 run that included a huge dagger three from Harris.

Lofton finished with a game-high 21 points on top of his five boards and 9-of-11 shooting from the stripe. Harris continued shine offensively on top of being the Aggie floor general, tying his career-high with 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting – three of which came downtown.

"I think it's just maturity. Sticking through adversity and sticking together as a team. We got the talent, but you can't win without heart. And I think is that what we have. They me pick up, I pick them up. That's how get through those runs." – Aggie guard Zach Lofton

"We're not the biggest team in America by height, but they are pretty tough. They have developed a competitive spirit amongst themselves. You know things are going well when you walk into the locker room and the door is shut and they don't know I am out there and about to walk in - almost every day its chatter and they like each other. They have great chemistry and they have built that on their own. As a coach, you pray that, that happens. - Aggie head coach Chris Jans

Not known for their free-throw shooting, the Aggies knocked 20-of-27 free-throw attempts Saturday night while GCU shot just 8-of-10 from the late…The Aggies also turned 13 GCU turnovers into 22 points…NM State is now 29-5 all-time in the WAC Tournament and 18-2 all-time at Orleans Arena...the team finished with 32 made 3-pointers, breaking the previous record of 30 set by Boise State back in 2008.

The Aggies now await their fate and find out where they’ll be sent for the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Selection Sunday is set to be begin at 4 p.m. (MT) and will be broadcast on TBS. First-round action of the NCAA Tournament is scheduled to begin on Friday, March 16.