Utah St rallies to beat New Mexico St in WAC semis

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RENO, Nev. (AP)—Even the mascots got into it in a scrappy thriller that didn’t end until Utah State’s Tyler Newbold rolled in a 15-foot jump shot with 3.1 seconds to beat New Mexico State 71-70 Friday in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Gary Wilkinson scored a game-high 19 points and Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams added 13 each for Utah State (29-4), which overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to set a school record for most wins in a season.

The regular season WAC champions advance to Saturday night’s final against second-seeded Nevada (21-11), a 77-68 winner over Louisiana Tech in the other semifinal.

Jonathan Gibson had 16 points and Jahmar Young 15 for New Mexico State (17-15), which turned an early 10-point deficit into a 47-34 halftime lead by making eight consecutive attempts from 3-point range.

Gibson scored 14 points in the first half but Newbold’s kept him from scoring in the second half until 1:42 was left in the game.

“That’s Tyler Newbold. He’s just going to go out and he’s going to guard,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said.

“No matter what happened the last possession, he’s going to guard the next one. No matter what happened the first half, he’s going to guard the second half. He’s driven. He’s self-motivated. You don’t have to pull his string. He pulls his own string.”

It was Newbold who got Utah State the ball back with 31 seconds on the clock when NMSU’s Hernst Laroche missed the front end of a one-and-one. Gibson grabbed the rebound but Newbold tied him up for a jump ball and the possession arrow favoring Utah State.

Wesley missed a short hook in the lane with 7 seconds left, but NMSU’s Chris Gabriel swatted the ball out of bounds. During an ensuing time out, the Utah State mascot “Big Blue” the bull confronted the New Mexico State’s cowboy mascot “Pistol Pete”—both teams are Aggies—and ripped off his fake mustache.

The cowboy then chased the bull to halfcourt, jumped on his back and tried to pull him to the floor before retreating to his end of the court.

After fans for both teams started booing, Wesley caught the inbounds pass at the top of the lane and passed to Newbold on the left wing. His 15-footer rolled off the rim, hit the backboard and rolled in.

“I caught the ball and I almost shot it, but I saw … Tyler standing over there wide open, so I hit Tyler and it worked out,” said Wesley, who had seven assists.

“The whole time in second half, I was thinking this is our season. This is a very make-or-break moment in our season where if you lose, most likely we’re going to the NIT. If we win, we keep our dream alive.”

With 3.1 seconds left, NMSU’s Wendell McKines inbounded the ball to LaRoche, who passed to Young who launched a 40-foot shot that fell short as time expired.

“Utah State hit some real big clutch shots down the stretch.,” New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. “But that’s what they do, what they’ve been doing. That’s the reason they are 29-4 and a great basketball team. It was just one of those games where you are trying to hang on. And we just weren’t able to hang on long enough.”

Utah State led 19-9 before NMSU went on a 26-7 run that included seven consecutive possessions where it scored three points. One was a three-point play with a free throw by Troy Gillenwater but the other six were 3-point goals—two each by Jahmar Young and Gordo Castillo and one each by Gibson and Hamid Rahman.

Gibson added another 3-pointer 2:35 before the half to give New Mexico State a 40-30 lead that grew to 47-34 at the half.

Utah State opened the second half with a 13-3 run that included Newbold’s 3 pointer to cut NMSU’s lead to 50-47 with 15:17 remaining.

Laroche answered with a 17-footer and a layup to put New Mexico State on top 54-47. Pooh Williams answered with a 3 pointer and Matt Formisano scored twice inside to pull within 61-59. But NMSU followed with a 7-1 run capped by Young’s 3-pointer to make it 68-60.

Utah State went on its own 7-1 run to cut it to 68-67 when Wilkinson put back his own rebound, was fouled and converted the three-point play with 2:47 to go.

Gibson drove for a basket but Williams matched it to make it 70-69 with 1:25 left before the real excitement began.

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