New Mexico State beats Utah State, wins WAC title
RENO, Nev. (AP)—Jamhar Young spent the afternoon in front of the television watching other teams earn NCAA tournament berths.
He was determined to do the same for New Mexico State.
The 6-foot-5 junior point guard and tourney MVP scored 19 points to help New Mexico State snap top-seeded Utah State’s 17-game winning streak with a 69-63 upset in the Western Athletic Conference title game Saturday night.
“I was watching TV today and seeing all those teams saying, ‘We’re going dancing. We’re going dancing,”’ Young said. “So I just visualized it for us, and it is an amazing feeling.”
Young scored consecutive baskets to spark a 14-4 run late in the game that turned a 51-46 deficit into a 60-55 lead for New Mexico State.
The night before, he hit a basket with 3.8 seconds left in the semifinals to knock off second-seeded Nevada, 80-79.
“I love to make big shots,” Young said. “It’s what I do. Coach calls my number and I love to be in the spotlight.
Troy Gillenwater added 15 points and Jonathan Gibson 14 for the Aggies (22-11), who allowed only five turnovers in a physical game to Utah State’s nine.
Jared Quayle had 25 points, Nate Bendall 16 and Tai Wesley 13 for Utah State (27-7), which trailed 28-26 at the half en route to its first loss since Jan. 4.
“It’s a tough loss,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “We knew we were in for a tough game. They just kept answering everything we did. That’s a good team. They can do something in the NCAA tournament.”
Morrill expects his team to be there, too, with an at-large bid, but knows there is no guarantee given the WAC’s mid-major status.
“We won 17 games in a row, we won our league by three games, we got to the finals in this tournament,” he said. “Our RPI is good and our strength of schedule is better than a lot of teams they are talking about.
“If we don’t get in, then it makes it real tough for leagues like ours, teams like ours. What do you have to do? But you never know. A bunch of guys that don’t know Winona State from Utah State and go into a room and make those decisions.”
Utah State made a late comeback bid when Brian Green came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the Aggies’ lead to 60-57 with 3:35 left in the game.
After New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines scored and Young made a free throw, Quayle’s jump shot made it 63-59. But Young lobbed a pass to Gillenwater to turn a fast break into a slam dunk and a 65-59 lead with 1:23 to go.
Bendall scored inside to cut it to 65-61 11 seconds later, but Young’s floater in the lane made it 67-61 with 39 seconds on the clock.
Quayle missed a 3-pointer, but got a bank shot to go to make it 67-63 with 16 seconds left. Hernst Laroche then made two free throws to seal the win.
New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said the fact Utah State came from 13 down to beat his team 70-71 in last year’s WAC semifinals made the victory that much sweeter.
“Oh, my goodness. What a feeling,” he said. “Our ball pressure and our ability to play tough defense were the keys. … We knew it would be a war.”
Wesley had to leave the game with a broken, bloody nose twice in the first 7 minutes of the game, and then again about 5 minutes before the half.
“He’s bleeding,” Young told referee Randy McCall when Wesley returned in front of the press table with blood stains on his jersey.
“It’s just blood on his jersey,” McCall answered.
“He’s not going to touch me,” Young declared.
“Don’t guard him,” the ref replied and handed the ball to Wesley to inbound.
The rough play contributed to both team’s shooting struggles early with Utah State missing its first six and New Mexico State its first five from 3-point range.
Bendall hit a 17-footer to give Utah State a 18-14 lead 7:36 before the half, but New Mexico State went on an 11-3 run capped by three consecutive baskets from Gillenwater to go ahead 24-21.
Quayle followed a pair of free throws with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Utah State up 26-25 about 3 minutes before the break, but Young answered with a 3 of his own from the left baseline to make it 28-26 at the half.