Tillman’s 23 lifts NM State over Utah Valley to go to WAC Championship

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Donny Tillman scores his season high in the Aggies’ win over UVU to propel them into the conference tournament championship. (Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics)

The New Mexico State men’s basketball team held on tight and steamrolled through the Utah Valley Wolverines in their WAC Tournament semifinal matchup, winning it 78-62 to earn a spot in the Championship game tomorrow night for a third straight time against GCU.

Bringing the same energy from last night, New Mexico State opened tonight’s game on a 12-2 run, instantly getting out in front thanks largely to Donnie Tillman, who was responsible for 10 of those points and proving his importance in the Aggie offense. 

Such a strong start the Aggies was followed by a scoring drought of their own, ended when Jabari Rice broke it with a beautiful shot from downtown. After eight minutes had ticked off the clock UVU finally got their first field goal of the game after missing the first 10 shots, only making two free throws prior. 

After being down as many as 13 points in the first half, the Wolverines fought their way back and brought themselves back into the game, cutting the lead to just 26-22. With the lead being shortened, head coach Chris Jans called a 30-second timeout at the 1:21 mark to calm his players down. 

NM State got some breathing room heading into the break, taking a 32-23 lead after a running fadeaway buzzer beater by Kalen Williams capped the mini-run off. The Aggie defense made scoring difficult for UVU, holding them to an abysmal 24% from the field and 18% from three, but bailing them out at the free throw line with early foul trouble.

Coming right out of the gates to start out the second half the Aggies went on a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 39-23, forcing UVU to call a quick timeout. Another little spurt from NM State has put them up by 20 points at a few possessions later.

Jabari Rice got into foul trouble at the 8:25 minute mark in the second, being forced to sit for an extended period of time with four fouls. The Wolverines would take advantage of this period to mount whatever little chance of a comeback they had left, cutting the lead to as little as nine points behind an eruptive second half performance by Trey Woodbury, who scored 23 in the period and finished the game with 34 points.

Anytime UVU would push, though, it seemed like the Aggies had a perfect answer, putting together yet another run and pushing the game out of reach with — you guessed it — another Tillman three-pointer.

 

Tillman led the Aggies with 23 points in an energetic 21 minutes, highlighting a solid all-around offensive showing where NM State shot respectable 45% from the field and 36% from deep clips. On the other side the defense from the Aggies was consistently forcing tough shots by UVU, holding the Wolverines to 30% from the field and 24% from deep.

In what is becoming a WAC Vegas tradition, NM State can look forward to playing rivals Grand Canyon Saturday night for a the conference championship and a chance to head back to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies dropped both matchups against GCU earlier in the season, but the WAC giants are starting to look like their old dominant selves at the perfect time, setting up for what should be another classic — something we know these two teams are more than capable of producing.

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