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New Mexico State dispatches Nevada in WAC tourney semifinal
by Dan Eckles
Mar 13, 2010 | 556 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Nevada point guard Armon Johnson eyes the hoop for a fast-break layup during first-half action Friday.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Nevada point guard Armon Johnson eyes the hoop for a fast-break layup during first-half action Friday.
RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack’s dreams of returning to the NCAA Tournament were dashed when New Mexico State’s Jahmar Young knocked down a pull-up jumper in the lane with 3.8 seconds left in Friday night’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal.

Young’s shot gave New Mexico State an 80-79 victory and propelled the Aggies into tonight’s WAC tournament championship game against Utah State.

Nevada took a 79-78 lead after WAC Player-of-the-Year Luke Babbitt drained two foul shots with 45.6 ticks to go. Nevada nearly forced a turnover when Brandon Fields got a tie-up with 31.6 seconds remaining but the possession arrow pointed to New Mexico State.

The Aggies retained possession and called a timeout. The NMSU coaching staff drew up a play that saw Young, the WAC’s third-leading scorer, penetrate and create. He did just that, creating for himself the game-winning look.

“It (the last shot) was exactly what we wanted at that time,” New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. “We usually start the play at 12 seconds. It takes seven or eight seconds to develop. You have to give yourself a chance for an offensive rebound. Different sets have different times.”

New Mexico State (21-11) led by just two at the break, 42-40, but took control in the opening minutes of the second half. The Aggies stretched their lead to eight, 51-43, after Troy Gillenwater made good on a pair of foul shots at the 16:44 mark.

New Mexico State’s lead was still eight, 62-54, with 13:03 to go in half two following a Wendell McKines dunk.

That’s when Nevada (20-12) began to chip away. Nevada got a three-point play from Armon Johnson and a two free throws from Babbitt following a technical foul call against Young. That trimmed New Mexico State’s lead 62-59.

New Mexico State was still clinging to a three-point lead, 74-71, when Nevada got back-to-back buckets — a pair of Marko Cukic layups — to grab a 75-74 advantage, its first lead since late in the first half. The clock showed 3:01 to go at that point. The league foes traded buckets and foul shots the rest of the way, concluding with Babbitt’s late free throws and Young’s game-winning jumper.

“It was incredibly tough. We're in shock,” Babbitt said. “We all feel terrible. Coach didn't know what to say. Nobody was expecting to lose.”

Babbitt scored a career-high 33 points while Joey Shaw and Armon Johnson each added 13 points for the Wolf Pack.

“Luke was Luke. He's an NBA player,” Menzies said of Babbitt. “I hope he's an NBA player this year. He did exactly what we expected. We went at him with several different defensive schemes. He kept finding other ways to score.”

Gillenwater paced the NMSU offensive attack, finishing with 21 points. McKines and Young contributed 16 and 15 points respectively while Jonathon Gibson added 10 to the winning cause.

Nevada outshot New Mexico State from the field, making good on 28-of-56 (50 percent) field-goal attempts compared to NMSU’s 26-of-59 (44.1 percent).

The Aggies won the rebounding battle, 34-31, and that helped them outscore the Wolf Pack 17-2 in second-chance points.

New Mexico State had a big advantage in fast-break points as well, outscoring Nevada 25-11.

“It was a tough loss. The guys fought very hard,” Nevada coach David Carter said. “New Mexico State battled hard. They may have wanted it more than we did down the stretch.”

Neither team could take control in the first half as they traded leads and saw multiple deadlocks.

Nevada jumped ahead 7-0 less than 90 seconds into the contest but NMSU responded to go ahead 13-11 after two Gillenwater free throws with 16:09 showing on the first-half clock.

From there, the lead changed hands eight times and there were five ties before halftime. The last tie of the first half came at 37-37 when Shaw got a putback with 1:55 to go before the break.

New Mexico State got two free throws from Hernst Laroche and a Gillenwater 3-pointer to forge ahead 42-37. However, the scoreboard read 42-40 at the intermission after Johnson dropped a three-point bomb in the waning seconds of the half.

Nevada now must wait until Sunday night to find out if it will be selected to either the NIT or CBI postseason tournaments. The Pack, which went to four straight NCAA Tournaments from 2004-2007 has played in the CBI each of the past two seasons.

“We'll wait and see,” Carter said. “That's all we can do right now. There are a few tournaments out there. We'll wait and see on Sunday night.”
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