Aggies close out regular season with third-straight win heading into WAC Vegas

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Johnny McCants nearly has a five-by-five game in NM State’s 68-56 win over DSU. (Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics)

The New Mexico State basketball team looks to have found a relative rhythm, and at the perfect time, capping off the regular season with a series sweep against over Dixie State in a 68-56 Saturday night win to make it three straight victories heading into next week’s WAC Tournament. 

The key to the Aggie win was on the defensive side where they had nine steals and 18 points off turnovers while adding five blocks making sure nothing came easy for Dixie State, who barely managed to shoot 34% from the field on the night.

The Aggies started out the game strong with back to back three balls by Donnie Tillman that gave NM State a 6-0 lead right away and carrying the intensity to a double-digit lead by the first media timeout.

NM State did not show any signs of slowing down, leading by as much as 13 points and maintaining a comfortable lead while forcing consistently tough shots by Dixie State for the better part of the half.

The Trailblazers started to mount a comeback as the half came to a close, bringing the game within four points at the 2:00 minute mark behind a rebounding advantage that was a far cry from what was seen in last night’s 76-66 win for the Aggies. 

NM State led 40-34 entering the halftime break, never trailing along the way thanks to a career performance by Tillman, who had 17 first half points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field with three threes and a couple of highlight dunks.

The Aggies started the second firing on all cylinders, reclaiming the momentum and taking back a double digit lead with a beautiful low post spin move by Johnny McCants to make it 46-36.

NM State took a 56-41 lead for its biggest of the night after a 7-0 run, effectively ending any chance of a comeback while the Trailblazers suffered a five minute scoring drought.

Donnie Tillman led all Aggies in scoring with 22 points while chipping in six rebounds, and McCants had one of the better all around stat lines you’ll ever see, contributing 12 points, six boards, five assists, three blocks and five steals — all of which, save points, were at least tied for team highs.

Thanks to their three game winning streak to close out the season, head coach Chris Jans’ squad managed to clinch the No. 3 seed for next weekend’s WAC Tournament in Las Vegas — the place where the the Aggies’ 2020 title defense was cut short as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, setting up for one of the more unprecedented campaigns in the history the program, amongst many others.

We’ve made it to the end of the road though — something that was in doubt less than two months ago. While there have been bumps in the road for NM State, getting a chance to go back where they were in poll position to get back to the NCAA Tournament and make some March Madness noise will be as enticing an opportunity as any before, and after the last year, to be able to is something that will never be taken for granted again.

The Aggies will take on UTRGV on Thursday, March 11 in the first round of the WAC Tournament.

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