LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP)—Justin Hawkins didn’t miss much early and New Mexico State’s often shaky free throw shooters didn’t miss at all late in the game.
Hawkins scored 19 of his career-high 29 points in the first half and the Aggies—a 64 percent shooting team—hit 18 straight free throws in the final seven minutes to beat No. 15 Nevada 80-73 Saturday night.
Hawkins and New Mexico State’s quickness and second chance shooting were too much for the Wolf Pack.
“We got pounded on the glass and pounded on the foul line,” said Nevada coach Mark Fox of the Aggies’ 45-32 edge in rebounding and 28 of 34 free throw shooting.
New Mexico State (15-4, 5-1 WAC) had 23 offensive rebounds and consistently turned them into points to give second-year head coach Reggie Theus his first win over a Top 25 team. It was the Aggies’ first win over a ranked team since January of 1999, when they beat No. 12 New Mexico.
It also was the latest installment in Theus’ quick fix of a program that went 6-24—its worst record in 39 years—the year before Theus was hired.
“This is a defining moment in this basketball program,” said Theus, a former assistant to Rick Pitino, who was hired on the same night that Louisville won the NCAA tournament’s Albuquerque Regional in March 2005.
Hawkins added 11 rebounds—nine of them offensive. He summed up his career night as a case of being open and his teammates finding him.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Hawkins said. “The guys found a way to get me the ball and the ball was just going in.”
Nevada (17-2, 5-1) got 21 points and seven rebounds from Nick Fazekas and 23 points from Ramon Sessions.
But Nevada, which had its 10-game winning streak snapped, was no match for the Aggies on the boards and Hawkins’ quick hands and quicker release.
Hawkins’ back-to-back offensive rebounds and layups sparked a 9-0 run by the Aggies midway through the second half that put New Mexico State in front 62-52 with less than eight minutes left.
Asked to comment on Hawkins’ game, a noticeably upset Fox tersely replied, “that’s too technical for me.”
Elijah Ingram scored 14 points and Tyrone Nelson scored 12 for the Aggies, who have won 14 of their last 15.
Hawkins hit eight of his first nine shots and scored seven straight points in the first half to give the Aggies a 21-12 lead. Nevada countered with an 11-0 run sparked by Fazekas.
Wearing a brace on the left ankle he sprained two weeks ago, Fazekas had trouble early on getting shots against the Aggies’ frontline of 6-foot-10 Hatila Passos and 6-9 Nelson, Fazekas moved out to the perimeter and hit back-to-back 3-pointers. They came early in the run that ended with a free throw by Sessions for a 28-26 Wolf Pack lead, their first, with 4:23 left in the first half.
“I’m not quite 100 percent, I’m not even close. It shows when I’m out there,” Fazekas said of the ankle that kept him out of two games. The Aggies took the lead for good at 46-44 on a 3-pointer by Fred Peete with 13:49 left. The Wolf Pack got within 74-70 with 43 seconds left, but the Aggies’ flawless free throw shooting made the lead hold up.