Defense played a key role as New Mexico State remained undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play with a 61-57 win over a spirited Bakersfield team on Jan. 30.
It was the 10th straight win for the Aggies who have won at least straight games in each of the final four seasons. Bakersfield, meanwhile, suffered its first road loss of the season.
New Mexico State held a precarious one-point lead with 95 seconds remaining in the game when Shunn Buchanan came up with a steal on the defensive end that gave the ball back to the Aggies, who were able to thwart any comeback hope of the Roadrunners.
Ivan Aurrecoechea and Jabari Rice combined to score 43 points to pace the Aggies. Aurrecoechea tied his career-high with 23 points in the game and Rice chipped in with 20 points of his own to spearhead the win.
They became the first pair of NMSU teammates to score at least 20 points in the same game since Aurrecoechea (23) and JoJo Zamora (27) combined to score 50 points in a win over in-state rival New Mexico.
Potent field goal shooting has also figured heavily into the recent success of NMSU.
Evan Gilyard II nailed a pair of 3-pointers and Terrell Brown added another in the early going at the Aggies managed to build a 19-9 lead in just over five minutes into the contest as NMSU returned home for the first time in three weeks. The Aggies moved in front 21-11 on a layup by Aurrecoechea before Bakersfield began to make things interesting.
Cam Allen led a 8-0 scoring run by the Roadrunners that pulled them to within three points. A 3-pointer by Rice with 9:15 left in the opening half ended the Bakersfield run, but the Aggies were never able to regain their double-digit lead.
A pair of field goals from Allen on consecutive trips down the floor allowed the Roadrunners to pull to within 32-30 with 2:36 remaining in the half. Aurrecoechea scored the final three points of the half as NMSU built a 35-30 cushion at the intermission.
The Aggies finished the half with 12 of 22 shooting from the floor for 55 percent, while Bakersfield was not far behind with 13 of 24 shooting for 54 percent.
Justin Edler-Davis’ 3-pointer gave the visitors their first lead of the game when he scored with 3:36 left in the game to move the Roadrunners in front 53-52 advantage.
Aurrecoechea’s layup a short time later put the Aggies in front to stay at 55-54. He added a pair of free throws following Buchanan’s pivotal steal. Buchanan made three of four free throws in the final 15 seconds to seal the win.
Allen and Edler-Davis both scored 11 points to pace the Roadrunners as four players reached double figures. Czar Perry and Taze Moore also reached double digits with 10 points each.
New Mexico State extended its win streak to 11 games two days later with a 72-52 win over Grand Canyon.
Rice led a trio of Aggies in double figures after scoring 18 points. Johnny McCants and Aurrecoechea added 17 and 14 points, respectively, in the game.
The Antelopes, who are tied with three other teams, for third in the WAC standings, were led by Carlos Johnson’s 15 points, while Mikey Dixon (14) and Jovan Blacksher (13) also reached double figures.
Grand Canyon, along with Kansas City, Seattle and Bakersfield, all sit a 4-4 in the conference heading into this week’s games.
WAC Marquee Game of the Week
New Mexico State at Kansas City
When: Saturday, Feb. 8, 6 p.m.
Where: Swinney Center (1,600)
NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES: New Mexico State is looking to extend its winning streak to 12 games when they travel to America’s Heartland to tangle with Kansas City on Saturday.
The Aggies have not lost since falling to arch-rival New Mexico 69-62 on Dec. 14 and began their streak of conference victories with an 86-71 triumph over California Baptist on Jan. 4 in Riverside, Calif.
Trevelin Queen (6-6, Sr., G) leads three Aggies in double-digit scoring with 14.7 points per game. He also leads the team in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and tops the team charts with 37 steals. He is second on the team with 55 steals and six blocked shots.
Jabari Rice (6-4, RS, Sr., G) and Ivan Aurrecoechea (6-8, Sr., F) check in with 12.7 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. Rice is grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game this season and ranks third on the team with 38 assists and is fourth with 17 steals. Aurrecoechea, meanwhile, is the Aggies’ third leading rebounder (5.5 rpg) and has tallied 20 assists so far this season.
KANSAS CITY KANGAROOS: Kansas City will take a three-game winning streak into Thursday’s game when UT Rio Grande Valley invades Swinney Center and the Kangaroos will be looking to extend that streak to four games before its pivotal game against New Mexico State.
Javan White (6-10, Sr., F) leads three players in double digits for Kansas City. He enters this week’s games with a 10.6 scoring average, thanks in large part by his 45 percent (84-188) shooting from the floor. He is also averaging 7.2 rebounds per contest and has logged 29 assists and 21 steals so far this season.
Brandon McKissic (6-3, Jr., G) is second with his 10.4 points per contest and tops the team with 7.1 boards per outing. He is also second on the team with 27 steals. Jordan Giles (6-7, Sr., F) is the third Kangaroo in double digits with 10.2 points per game. He is fourth on the team with 3.3 rebounds per game and has tallied 30 assists and 14 steals on the season.
Western Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Standings
(thru games of Feb. 1)
1 – New Mexico State 8-0 17-6
2 – California Baptist 6-2 16-6
3 – Kansas City 4-4 12-11
Seattle 4-4 11-12
Bakersfield 4-4 10-13
Grand Canyon 4-4 9-13
7 – Utah Valley 3-5 9-14
UT Rio Grande Valley 3-5 7-14
9 – Chicago State 0-8 4-19
Last Week’s Results
Kansas City 99, Crowley’s Ridge 41
California Baptist 65, Utah Valley 61
Grand Canyon 87, UT Rio Grande Valley 79
New Mexico State 61, Bakersfield 57
California Baptist 72, Seattle 65
Kansas City 69, Chicago State 51
New Mexico State 72, Grand Canyon 52
UT Rio Grande Valley 70, Bakersfield 59
This Week’s Games
New Mexico State at Chicago State, 6 p.m., WDN
UT Rio Grande Valley at Kansas City, 6 p.m. WDN
Bakersfield at California Baptist, 8 p.m., WDN
UT Rio Grande Valley at Chicago State, 11 a.m., WDN
Seattle at Utah Valley, 2 p.m., WDN
New Mexico State at Kansas City, 6 p.m., WDN
Grand Canyon at California Baptist, 8 p.m., ESPN+
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.