The “cardiac kids” was what New Mexico State head men’s basketball coach said his team was becoming last night in the postgame interviews. That squad delivered once again Saturday night in the semifinal game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic with the 63-54 upset of No. 6/7 Miami at the Stan Sheriff Center, handing the Hurricanes their first loss of the year.
The win gave NM State its first victory over a top-10 team since the heroic Keith Hill jumper that gave the Aggies the 83-82 win at home over seventh-ranked UNLV led by the great Jerry Tarkanian. That Aggie team on Jan. 8, 1990, was coach by Neil McCarthy.
It was also NM State’s first win against an Atlantic Coast Conference team since Lou Henson’s 1997-98 team took down Virginia in the 34th Rainbow Classic in Honolulu on Dec. 30, 1997.
Eli Chuha was aggressive off the bench for the Aggies early on, scoring immediately off the low block to bring NM State (11-2) within 6-4 of the Hurricanes (10-1) with 16:18 on the clock.
Another nice move by Chuha on the block followed by a corner three from Keyon Jones brought the Aggies within two, 13-11, once again before Miami hit a pair of free-throws out of the second media break. But, an offensive board and move down the lane by Zach Lofton followed by a steal and jam from Johnathon Wilkins made it 15-15 before Miami answered on the other end to take the 17-15 lead.
New Mexico State took its first lead of the game 18-17 when Sidy N’Dir took it to the rack with 5:46 left in the first half. An exchange of baskets knotted things up at 21-21 before a Wilkins gave NM State the lead for good with a savvy move in the far low block. New Mexico State wound up not giving up that lead the rest of the game as it fended off the Hurricanes for the win.
Jumpers from AJ Harris and N’Dir with less than two minutes left in the first half pushed the lead to 29-25 before a huge block by Harris on the last shot by Miami sent the Aggies into the locker room with the narrow lead.
NM State was effective on the defensive end in the first half, turning the Hurricanes over 11 times for 12 points while keeping the battle in the paint even at 16-16.
The second-half had a lot of back-and-forth action as both teams continued to exchange baskets, but New Mexico State was able to hold on to a narrow 44-40 margin at the 12:26 media timeout thanks to its defense.
N’Dir gave NM State its largest lead of the game, 52-43, when he knocked down a corner three with 5:57 left in the game. However, the No. 6/7-ranked Hurricanes slowly chipped away at the lead and got within a point of the Aggies on two separate occasions.
The first came on an 8-0 run capped off by DeWan Huell’s jumper with 2:08 left to play. A put-back tip-in from none other than Jemerrio Jones pushed it back up to 54-51 before Bruce Brown Jr hit both free-throws to make it 54-53 with 1:25 to go.
On the ensuing possession, Lofton swished a critical 3-pointer before the hard-nosed Harris stole the ball from Miami’s Chris Lykes for the lay-up and 59-53 lead that ultimately put the game away.
Lofton tied for the game-high with 15 points and nine rebounds – including a 6-for-6 effort from the line – while Harris and N’Dir each chipped in with 10 points. Chuha added eight points and eight rebounds while J. Jones finished with six points and eight rebounds.
BY THE NUMBERS
New Mexico State converted 11 Miami turnovers for 12 points while denying the Hurricanes any points off its four turnovers in the first half…Saturday game was just the second time NM State has committed less than 10 turnovers this year with eight, matching the low against then No. 21/22 Saint Mary’s…NM State is now 9-0 when registering more steals than its opponent with a 6-1 edge over Miami…after tying his career-high with eight rebounds last night, Lofton had a new career-high in rebounds with nine against Miami.
“It’s a defining program win. We don’t get many opportunities like this to play a highly-ranked team on a neutral court. When you have those opportunities, you must take full advantage of it. Couldn’t be more proud for a group of a guys than I am right now. We kept battling. Miami was punching back and fortunately they weren’t able to surpass us and we held onto the lead.” – Aggie head coach Chris Jans
New Mexico State gets a day off before wrapping up the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day. The championship game is scheduled to tip-off at 4 p.m. (MT) on ESPN2 against the Trojans of Southern California – who won the tournament back in 2009.