New Mexico State’s win tonight marks their second straight WAC title, their fifth in eight years. The Aggies defeated Grand Canyon, a team that had their first taste of a WAC Championship, and all postseason whatsoever in Division I play. The Lopes became eligible at the start of the season.
The game began with back and forth momentum shifts in the first half, though it was a defensive battle for the first 15 minutes. Towards the end of the first half, NMSU went on a run and went up 11 at halftime.
In the second half, Grand Canyon began with some life and was only down 6 at one point. With 2:40 to go in the second half, Zach Lofton and Casey Benson both received a technical foul. The reason for it was due to Benson and McCants locking up and McCants pushed Benson after exchanging words. Lofton got caught in the mix and ended up with a tech.
The technical fouls were a large shift in momentum, and prior to them the Aggies were up double digits on the Lopes. NMSU finished out the game winning by fourteen.
The two teams had very similar shooting nights. NMSU hit six threes, while Grand Canyon only has four from deep. The Aggies stole the ball from GCU nine times, and blocked three shots as well.
Zach Lofton scored 23 points on only 5 field goals, though sunk 11 free throws for the Aggies. Jemerrio Jones hauled in 19 rebounds, a stat that is a regular night for the senior guard. Point guard AJ Harris stepped up and scored 20 points, doubling his season average.
For Grand Canyon, freshman Alessandro Lever scored 20 points and hit three three pointers. Keonta Vernon had 17 points and hauled in 8 boards. Vernon started the game scoring 11 of Grand Canyon’s first 14 points. Point guard Casey Benson had 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in the loss.
New Mexico State played 3 seed Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, though lost by 18. The Aggies are thought of as a much better team this season. At one point, the team was nearly ranked, being 26th in the nation. They were considered an at-large team, though they ended up losing to Utah Valley and Seattle towards the end of the season and the hopes were diminished.
The Aggies will not be sweating on Sunday. There will be a watch party on campus open to public, which starts at 4 PM MT. The Selection Show begins at 6 PM ET.