NM State overcomes bad shooting night to eek out gritty win over CSUB

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Jabari Rice drives to the hoop in the Aggies' 61-57 win over CSU Bakersfield.

It was far from pretty, but the New Mexico State basketball team held off a gritty CSU Bakersfield Thursday night, toppling the Roadrunners 61-57 thanks to good ball security and stingy defense down the stretch.

The Aggies looked unstoppable after near perfect start where they quickly put up 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, but timely turnovers and streaky hot shooting by CSUB during a near five-minute scoring drought prevented any game-breaking NM Stater run, keeping things tight as the first half came to a close.

As the shooting numbers would start regressing to the mean, the Roadrunners would continue to hang around, even pulling ahead midway through the second half at 46-46 each, but a pair of Jabari Rice free throws followed by an immediate Evan Gilyard that led to one of the many Ivan Aurrecoechea layups would get the Pan American Center rocking and reclaim some semblance of momentum for NM State.

CSUB would respond again, however, taking advantage of the Aggies continuing to regress past the mean with a porous offensive second half that saw the home side shooting a woeful 30% from the field.

NM State’s defense is the only thing keeping the conference leaders a perfect 7-0 in the WAC, with NM State’s ultimate senior glue guy Shunn Buchanan picking up what was essentially the game sealing steal that gave the Aggies the cushion they needed to build on their conference record winning streak.

“We’re going to take everybody’s best shot, and that’s okay, because I think it helps us grow. It puts us in situations that are tough, so later in the season, we can rely on those experiences to help us through,” head coach Chris Jans said when asked of the type of win the Aggies pulled out. “They’re tough minded, they’re well-coached, they’ve got 10 dudes they run in and out — they kept battling us and it went down to the wire… I thought we executed well down the stretch, especially when we didn’t have enough timeouts, and made enough free throws to close it out.”

Aurrecoechea and Rice shouldered the load on the offensive end, combining for 43 points (23 and 20 respectively) while being the only two Aggies to register made field goals in the second half, but it is clear that the condensed rotation as a result of injuries has put the team in as difficult a spot as they’ve been in in the Jans era of Aggie basketball. but tonight, they found ways to rise to the occasion and demonstrate why they’re the class of the WAC.

Jans credits CSUB’s preparation and grittiness for the Aggies’ struggles from the field in the second half, though, believing this is more of a one-off than a stylistic trend to come.

“It’s more because of how they play. We told them it was going to be a rock fight… they just play so hard,” Jans said. “They had us well scouted, they sat on a lot on our stuff… that’s why the field goals were hard to come by. Basically, we just [had] to throw the ball down to Ivan and let him work out or find somebody else for a reasonably good shot.”

Jans and the Aggies can now look forward to a showdown against Grand Canyon Saturday night at the Pan Am as the Lopes attempt to legitimize the “rivalry” between the two WAC foes.

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