Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Death. Texas. NM State winning WAC titles.
Those have been life's certainties in Las Cruces in recent memory and it was still the case Saturday night.
On pace to score just 40 points midway through the opening stanza, the rv/— Aggies finally managed to shake off their exceptionally slow start on offense by using an 11-0 run to take the lead for good and NM State hoisted its third WAC regular season championship trophy in as many seasons with a 78-62 come-from-behind triumph over UTRGV.
Jabari Rice came through with a team-high 20 points and Terrell Brown added 18 more off the bench for the Aggies who now own the nation's longest active winning streak at 16 games.
• Rolling into Las Cruces with their longest winning streak in 12 years, the Vaqueros were gunning to hand the Aggies their first WAC setback of the year and they looked primed to do so in the early stages of the game.
• Through the first 8:15, UTRGV scored 14 of the first 21 points to open up a 14-7 lead on the WAC leaders. Jordan Jackson punctuated that opening surge by the Vaqueros in a big way by driving down the land and tossing down an uncontested one-handed rim-rocker.
• Jackson's dunk would prove to be the last points the Vaqueros would score for four minutes as the Aggies finally found their groove on offense. Evan Gilyard II started an 11-0 Aggie run with a three-pointer that finally got NM State's sizable crowd into it. From there, Rice's mid-range jumper with 8:08 left pushed the hosts in front for good.
• NM State's run concluded when Gilyard II connected on another triple - this one coming after Trevelin Queen rejected a runner by UTRGV's Javon Levi on the defensive end - to make matters 18-14 with 7:45 left.
• Continuing to press the attack, NM State pushed its lead to double-digits with an 8-0 run in a span of 58 seconds. After Quinton Johnson II fired in a three-pointer that trimmed NM State's edge to 25-21 with 3:37 left, Queen and Brown drained downtown shots of their own on back-to-back possessions before Ivan Aurrecoechea caught a lob from Johnny McCants and threw down a two-handed jam which forced the Vaqueros to call time
• NM State's considerable lead continued to build, increasing to 18 after another triple by Brown made matters 39-21 with 1:07 to go.
• UTRGV managed to score the last four points of the half to make the Aggies' lead 39-25 but the hosts remained in control. NM State managed to stay in it by heading to the free throw stripe early and often in the half as the Aggies went 13-of-16 from the line.
• Things got chippy when a trio of technical fouls were handed out with 4:50 left in the half.
• McCants kept the Aggies in front, 44-27, after he hit two free throws 57 seconds in to the final frame, but the Vaqueros still had a considerable amount of fight left in them. After those freebies, Levi, Johnson II, and Lesley Varner II swished three-pointers on three-straight possessions to pull UTRGV within eight, 44-36, with 17:25 left.
• UTRGV got to within four points, 52-48, when Varner II pulled up for a mid-range jumper with 11:19 to go, but another quick flurry of offense by the Aggies helped them pull away again.
• Rice drilled a pair of three-pointers during a 10-0 Aggie surge that used up 1:44. The second of those downtown splashes made the home team's lead grow to 62-48 with 8:56 left.
• Brown put in the second of his two three-pointers in the half with 6:47 left and that shot pushed the Aggies' lead to 68-50. UTRGV never got closer than 12 points away the rest of the night.
KEY PERFORMERS/STATISTICS OF NOTE
• NM State has now won five WAC regular season titles in the previous six seasons and three in a row.
• In a wild day of college basketball, top-ranked Baylor, second-ranked Gonzaga and previously undefeated San Diego State all lost, making the Aggies one of just two NCAA Division I men's basketball teams without a loss in conference play this season.
• Aurrecoechea finished with a game-high 10 rebounds and was one point shy of a double-double after getting nine points to go along with two assists. Gilyard II, McCants and Queen each came up with eight points while CJ Bobbitt contributed six off the bench.
• The Aggies destroyed UTRGV on the glass, out-rebounding their foes 40-21. Rice grabbed six of those boards and came up with a team-high five assists.
• Varner II poured in a game-high 23 points for the Vaqueros who saw their longest winning streak in over a decade come to an end. Levi added 13 more and completed a double-double effort with a game-high 11 assists.
• The Aggies' third-consecutive WAC regular season title made head coach Chris Jans just the second head coach in program history to capture three-straight regular season league crowns.
COMING UP NEXT
• With the WAC regular season title in hand and armed with the nation's longest winning streak, the Aggies take their show on the road next week. NM State's final regular season WAC road swing starts Thursday night in Phoenix when the Aggies take on Grand Canyon at the GCU Arena. Tip-off has been set for 7:00 p.m.