2024 Mountain West Championship: New Mexico Secures First MWC Tournament Title in Over a Decade with 68-61 win over SDSU

 Game Recap: No. 6 New Mexico 68, No. 5 San Diego State 61

Jaelen House get’s his moment & secures his first MWC title in his last conference game.

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New Mexico secures first conference tournament title in a decade, thanks to the play of Jaelen House & JT Toppin.

Las Vegas, NV–If there were any better cherry on top of what has been one of the more competitive & entertaining Mountain West seasons in recent years, it was the championship game slated for Saturday afternoon in sin city. A showdown between longtime conference rivals No. 5 seed San Diego State & No. 6 seed New Mexico.

Two teams that may not have been on everyone’s bracket in the MWC Tournament title game, but two deserving programs nonetheless. New Mexico won three straight games in three straight days to get here. Beating Air Force on Wednesday (82-56), Boise State (76-66) on Thursday & Colorado State (74-61) late Friday night.

While San Diego State got a bye into the quarterfinals on Thursday, where they narrowly squeezed by UNLV 74-71. Then upsetting No. 1 seed & regular season champion Utah State 86-70 on Friday.

It isn’t unfamiliar territory for either program, but it’s been a second home for one & a once in a while destination for the other. San Diego State have become fixtures in the Mountain West Tournament title game the last decade. Making nine appearances in ten years & cutting the nets down four times in that span.

While New Mexico made a Cinderella style run in Paul Weir’s first season in Albuquerque back in 2018. That game was also against the Aztecs & their “first year” Head Coach Brian Dutcher. The Lobos fell 82-75 to their conference rivals that year.

Missing out on the title, one they haven’t brought home to Albuquerque since Craig Neals first year in charge in Albuquerque back in 2014. Noodles inherited a Steve Alford built roster to help lift that trophy. With history & an automatic berth to the big dance on the line, each team needed to cap amazing individual seasons with an amazing win Saturday afternoon.

The Lobos momentum was still in full swing at tip-off. Hitting the floor hard in the opening minutes on a 6-2 run. A Darrion Trimmell three pointer brought the Aztecs to within one. Sparked by Jaelen Houses’ energy, New Mexico found their offensive rhythm, though San Diego State kept things close.

Richard Pitino’s squad enjoyed small runs all throughout the first half. The first thanks to five straight Jamal Mashburn Jr. points, giving New Mexico their biggest lead to that point, 16-8 approaching the ten minute mark. To be followed with four straight three point field goals (3-House & 1-Mashburn Jr.) to extend their lead to double-digits, 30-18.

After a JT Toppin layup gave the Lobos the 34-20 lead approaching the two minute mark, the Aztecs made their stand. Going on a 10-2 run before half-time, with all points coming in the paint from their frontcourt duo of Jay Pal & JaeDon LeDee. As the buzzer sounded, New Mexico went into the locker rooms up 36-30.

Second Half

Even though the Lobos surrendered the closing minutes of the first half to the Aztecs, they wouldn’t let that influence how they emerged from half-time. Earning a quick five points from their backcourt duo before San Diego State decided it was time to put the clamp down.

The Aztecs fell victim to New Mexico’s fast pace style of play most of the game. Leading to their deficit & leadless first half. But Brian Dutcher’s squad wins their games in a much slower & physically charged way. San Diego State made a stand that would turn what was a comfortable Lobo lead most of the game into a one procession dogfight the rest of the way.

The Aztecs would turn to a style of play called, pass the ball to Jaedon. A play that would see LeDee vie for position in the post, receive the ball & eight times out of ten get fouled & head to the line. The other two times out of ten he would make the shot.

Creating quite a conundrum for New Mexico, who became spooked & decided their approach would be fouling the Aztec big to make him earn his points at the free throw line. Well, it sounded nice in theory. But LeDee came into this one shooting 72.4% from the free throw line. LeDee would go to the line multiple times over the next ten minutes, slowing the game down & taking New Mexico out of their offensive rhythm almost immediately.

A Jaelen House technical foul approaching the ten minute mark would trigger a series of plays that ultimately gave San Diego State their first lead of the game at 44-43 thanks to a Reese Waters jumper.

The next ten minutes were an exchange of free throws with a few genuine field goals scattered about. It brought everything down to the final two minutes of the game. Were both squads were tied at fifty-nine a piece, a time where the only way New Mexico would pull the upset would be if someone scored true field goals & rebounded when their opponents didn’t.

In comes MWC Freshman of the Year JT Toppin, Who grabbed four rebounds & scored five points, which became the cushion needed for third year Head Coach Richard Pitino to secure his first conference title.

The Lobos began to celebrate their 68-61 win at the buzzer, as the first No. 6 seed to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament ever. Jamal Mashburn Jr. joined House & Toppin in double-figures 21 points thanks to some very clutch shooting from all three-levels of scoring.

Player Spotlights

New MexicoJT Toppin & Jaelen House

Stat line: House-28 points, 5 rebounds & 3 steals on 10-22 (45.4%) from the floor & 3-7 (42.8%) from deep in 36 minutes of action Toppin-13 points & 11 rebounds on 6-8 (75%) from the floor in 35 minutes of action

The performance House had in the first half is the reason the Lobos were able to stay competitive as the Aztecs began chipping away at their grip on the lead. But it was also his level head in the second half as his team struggled, continuing to give effort & not letting it get to his head. His game high 28 points help attribute to an amazing final MWC game ever. And to go out cutting down the nets in the Pit West, there is no better feeling.

JT Toppin stepped up with his double-double as frontcourt mate Nelly Junior-Joseph was mainly tasked with keeping Aztec x-factor LeDee unimpactful until he absolutely couldn’t. So Toppin contributed in all the best ways down low, blocking & altering shots, securing boards of both variety & making shots when no one else could. I couldn’t give the spotlight to just one players as the game was won with the performances of both.

San Diego State F-Jaedon LeDee

Stat line: 25 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists on 7-12 shooting (58.3%) from the floor & a whopping 11-11 (100%) from the free throw line in 37 minutes of play

LeDee went scoreless in the first fifteen minutes of the game. Which is something no one realized until he began scoring every single minutes of the game going forward. The Aztec big man found his confidence late in the first half & found his role going forward, wrecking ball who can shoot free throws, exactly to his liking. LeDee can score at all three levels but is his most consistent battling for space in the paint.

No other Aztec scored in double-figures & his 100% performance from the charity stripe is the a huge piece of why the momentum of the game was laid gently in their hands most of the second-half. It was an All-Tournament level performance for the ages, a great way to cap a great career in the Mountain West.

Next Up:

With the final buzzer in Las Vegas on Saturday night, the conference postseason comes to a close with an incredible performance from all teams involved. The only thing left to do is tune in tomorrow Sunday March 17th for this year’s production of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

You can watch Selection Sunday on CBS at 4:00 PM MT & 3:00 PM PT. A streamed version of the show can be viewed on during their March Madness Live Special.

Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.

Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire