Aggies hold off ACU in WAC Championship to earn a 2022 NCAA tournament spot  

The New Mexico State Aggies spent the latter part of the week in Las Vegas, Nev. where they battled GCU in the conference semifinals to earn a spot in the WAC Championship. NMSU defeated GCU Friday night 75-70 in the Orleans Arena to cut the Lopes’ hope of any back-to-back titles.  

Courtesy of NMSU Athletics

Saturday night, the Aggies defeated Abilene Christian University 66-52 to punch a ticket to the 2022 NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2019 campaign. The game started in the favor of ACU as they ran out to an early 8-3 lead after forcing multiple defensive stops on their end.  

The NMSU offense found a spark from the games leading scorer Clayton Henry who ignited a 16-2 run, which would prove to be too much for ACU. The run was aided by Teddy Allen and Jabari Rice, who combined for the Aggies’ 16 points in the game-changing scoring run. 

Knowing what was at stake, ACU didn’t shy away as they too would drain a couple of threes to cut the Aggie lead. With under 10 minutes left in the half NM State enjoyed a slim 22-17 lead, but the game would see a five-minute defensive clinic. In those five minutes, there wasn’t a single point until WAC tournament MVP Teddy “Buckets” earned a pair of foul shots.  

Having been to the Big Dance already, Will McNair Jr. and Clayton Henry both drilled shots from behind the arc to give the Aggies a 30-21 halftime lead.   

The second half displayed exactly why New Mexico State earned the number one seed in the tournament and a share of the WAC Regular season title. ACU clawed its way to a six-point deficit at the 18-minute mark, but this was the closest the Wildcats would get to a tournament bid. Sir’ Jabari Rice answered with a personal 5-0 scoring run to give the Aggies a 39-28 lead.  

The remainder of half was dictated by the regular season champs and the energy provided by the state bench. Guard Mario McKinney Jr. poured in seven of his 10 points in the second half to help grow the Aggie lead to 17 for the first time at the 6:34 minute mark.  

Answering every made shot by the Wildcats, NM State controlled the rest of the half as they only allowed ACU within 13 points in the final five minutes. It was only right that Johnny McCants scored the final bucket for New Mexico State to secure the 66-52 win and the automatic tournament bid.  

“It feels pretty darn good! It’s been a while since we’ve sat up here and been able to call ourselves tournament champions. Knowing we’re going to the NCAA tournament it’s obviously very gratifying… I’m so happy for all our kids in the program, we’ve had an up and down year but they’ve stuck together to survive and advance last night and win a championship tonight. I’m just really thrilled for all of them,” head coach Chris Jans said.   

The Aggies will find out who and where they play in the opening round when the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Selection Show airs Sunday afternoon.  

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