New Mexico State drops in gut-wrenching fashion on improbable buzzer-beating moment

Connor Moreno

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On the heels of a dominant win against UTRGV in round one of the WAC Tournament, New Mexico State (16-16, 10-8 WAC) entered the quarterfinals red-hot to take on second-seeded Southern Utah (21-9, 16-2 WAC). Despite a valiant effort out of the Aggie women, they would lose the game 62-61 after Thunderbird guard, Cherita Daugherty, cashed a three-point prayer as time expired.

NMSU’s defense has proven to keep them afloat all season when it came to competing against tough conference opponents. It would be no different in Wednesday night’s game against a top offense in the league. The game plan was evident early; keep the ball out of the hands of Southern Utah’s forwards and make their offense have to create from outside of the paint.

While they succeeded defensively, it was the Aggie offense that gave the seventh seed a dominant start to assume early control of the game. Senior guard, Tayelin Grays, was the source of immediate energy, scoring 11 of her 13 total points in the opening quarter. Grays has been the glue that holds the team together all season and was the reason for a 20-10 start over the Thunderbirds in the opening frame.

Interchanging between man and zone defenses gave SUU different looks and prevented them from being able to get an early flow on offense. The Aggie defense bared the weight of an offensive drought early in the second quarter and their momentum would not falter. The ‘home’ team was held to four second-quarter points and New Mexico State went into halftime confidently up 30-14.

Southern Utah is atop the WAC standings for a reason. You don’t go 16-2 in your conference for no reason. The Thunderbirds answered back with a massive third quarter, outscoring the Aggies 21-6 to take their first lead since being up 5-3 in the first. Tomekia Whitman was especially hot for the T-birds, scoring 13 points to will her team back into the game.

In their prior two matchups, SUU had the edge by five average points and were especially dominant in each of those fourth quarters. And this would translate into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. They stayed hot, scored on what seemed like every possession down the stretch of the game, and gave themselves a chance to compete in this game.

Coach Jody Adams and the Aggies were more than prepared, though. The entire final quarter saw both teams exchanging tough buckets every possession. Despite a slow start, NMSU guard Molly Kaiser showed up for her team when they desperately needed her scoring ability down the stretch.

Photo Courtesy of NM State Athletics

It was a game of fouling and free throws in the final minute. With under 30 seconds left in the game, Sylena Peterson was sent to the line four times to shoot twice each time. Peterson was ice-hot and made her first six free throws in crunch time to put New Mexico State up 61-56 at one point en route to an upset.

Credit to Southern Utah for staying in the game in the final seconds. An uncharacteristic and-one foul by Tayelin Grays and two crucial free throw misses by Sylena Peterson let them cut the lead to two with 00:02 remaining in the game.

Off a broken inbounds play that was meant for her to go to the line and extend the game, Cherita Daugherty caught the tipped inbound pass and threw up a last second heave from beyond the arc that was nothing but net to win the game 62-61 as the buzzer sounded.

The Aggies couldn’t have defended any better in the final minutes of the game. A truly gut-wrenching finish to a season filled with ups, downs, and many instances of having to fight from behind.

Coach Jody Adams and the Aggie faithful now must turn their attention to the upcoming season, as it is filled with promise in the quest back to the top.

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