That’s because Utah State saw its 17-game winning streak snapped Saturday night in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. New Mexico State captured a 69-63 upset victory over top-seeded Utah State and with it snares the WAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA’s next week.
Utah State (27-7), which had not lost since Jan. 4, will now have to wait until the NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 3 p.m. today to see if it will receive one of the tourney’s 31 at-large berths.
New Mexico State (22-11) stole the win by taking control of the WAC final in the last seven minutes of play. NMSU trailed 53-49, but went on a 14-4 run over a 4:31 stretch to grab the momentum.
Jahmar Young concluded the outburst by connecting on 1 of 2 free throws with 2:26 remaining in the tournament tilt. That made the score 63-57 and Utah State could get no closer than four the rest of the way.
A Nate Bendall layup for Utah State with 1:10 to go trimmed the NMSU lead to 65-61. New Mexico State ran the clock down and got a runner from Young with 39 seconds left to push the lead back to six and ice the win.
New Mexico State will make its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2007.
Utah State got a game-high 25-point performance from senior point guard Jared Quayle. He hit on 9 of 15 shots, including 3-of-5 from three-point land.
USU was hurt by its long-range woes. The Logan, Utah school had been draining close to 50 percent of its three-point attempts during its 17-game winning streak, but on Saturday Utah State managed only a 4-of-16 (25 percent) effort. Apart from Quayle, the rest of the USU roster was 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Bendall and Tai Wesley did finish with 16 and 13 points respectively for Utah State.
Young finished with a team-high 19 points for New Mexico State and was named the tournament’s MVP. Troy Gillenwater and Jonathan Gibson contributed 15 and 14 points to the winning cause.
The first half was pretty evenly matched. New Mexico State took a 28-26 lead into halftime.
The WAC foes were deadlocked at 14-14 midway through the first half, but Utah State got a Wesley layup and a Bendall jumper for an 18-14 edge with 7:36 to go before the intermission.
New Mexico State responded with an 11-2 run that saw it snare 25-21 lead following a Gillenwater layup that left 4:07 on the first-half clock.
Utah State regained the lead, 26-25 thanks to a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer by Quayle. The slim margin didn’t stand up at the break as New Mexico State’s Young capped the first-half scoring with a trey.