LAS CRUCES – The New Mexico State men’s basketball team picked up a much needed victory on Wednesday.
The Aggies beat Stephen F. Austin 73-67 at the Pan American Center for their first Western Athletic Conference to improve to 1-9 in league play with a home game against second place Seattle on Saturday.
“The WAC didn’t do us any favors with four games here with no students,” Aggie’s head coach Greg Heiar said. “The noise in the arena gave our guys a ton of energy late in the game to get those defensive stops and those tough rebounds.
“To be 0-9 and our fans still showing up like that and still have that type of passion says a lot about Aggie nation and what kind of fans we have here. I know it’s been a rough season on all of Aggie nation and I ‘m very appreciative that they came out and helped us a lot down the stretch.”
A short handed NM State roster had double figure scoring nights from five players and a late 7-0 run provided just enough cushion for the Aggies to seal the win and split the season series with SFA.
“It feels good but we have to keep going,” Aggies forward Issa Muhammad said. “It’s only one win. We have to qualify for the (WAC Tournament). It feels like we got over an obstacle and acheived something today. Everyone did their job tonight and we got the win.”
The Aggies were without forward Marchelus Avery for a second straight game for what NMSU called “personal reasons” and guard Kyle Feit didn’t play due to a groin injury.
“Kyle is day to day and (Avery) is out for personal reason,” Heiar said. “They were both on the bench cheering the team on and being super positive. We will continue to evaluate both of them as we move forward and do what is best for both of them.”
NM State senior guard Xavier Pinson came off the bench on Wednesday after leaving the game with a knee injury at Utah Valley.
Pinson scored nine points with six assists on Wednesday, finding Dajuan Gordon (15 points) and Issa Muhammad (12 points, 11 rebounds) in transition during a 9-0 run the put the Aggies up 25-16 after Anthony Roy (10 points) banked in a 3-pointer as the Aggies shot 57 percent in the first half.
“We are just very happy to get over the hump,” said Gordon, who was 2 for 3 from 3-point range. “We are not satisfied at all, but finally got some relief. Now it’s time to turn it up a notch and do what we came here to do.”
But SFA closed the lead to 40-38 at halftime on 50 percent shooting in the first half.
The Aggies started the second half hot as well as a Muhammad dunk pushed the Aggies to their biggest lead of the game at 51-40 with 15:40 to play.
Once again, Stephen F. Austin closed the game, making it 54-53 with under 11 minutes to play on a Jaylin Jackson-Posey 3 pointer.
Muhammad and Doctor Bradley (12 points) scored on lay ups during a 7-0 Aggies run to push the lead back to 61-53 with 6:49 to play.
SFA closed to 64-63 on a Sadaidriene Hall 3-pointer, but Pinson hit Gordon for a lob. Gordon was fouled on the play and converted the three-point play to push the lead back to 67-63. Muhammad put in a follow with 49 seconds left for a 69-63 lead.
“It was a back cut and praise and Pinson put it right on the money and (Gordon) finished the play, great play, momentum play,” Heiar said. “I thought Issa’s tip in was the story of the game because I told them this is about 50-50 balls, toughness and rebounding.
“We were 44-28 on points in the paint. They were able to get what we talked about onto the court.”
Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.