Last month the Lobos and Aggies met in Las Cruses, New Mexico for round one of the Rio Grande Rivalry as NMSU ran the New Mexico out of the gym en route to a lop-sided victory.
Things did not go down to the wire in the 75-56 victory for New Mexico State on Nov. 17, but that was precisely the case on Saturday night.
The teams were separated by just two points at halftime and neither team held a double digit lead in the game. UNM held a nine-point advantage with 10 minutes to play, but hit just one field goal the rest of the way as the Aggies took advantage of the opportunity and take control.
New Mexico dropped to 3-7 and New Mexico State improved to 7-2 after the Aggies were able to execute down the stretch to earn a 65-62 comeback victory.
It was the Aggies' second win over the Lobos this season, earning a sweep over both of their interstate rivals after taking care of UTEP twice as well.
Despite the loss, UNM head coach Paul Weir said he was proud of his players and thanked the crowd for supporting the team and the energy it brought to Dreamstyle Arena on Saturday night and seemed pleased with the effort.
"It doesn't mean (the players) don't want it; it doesn't mean they don't try hard; it doesn't mean they don't work hard," Weir said. "They are giving it everything they've got...we're just not quite there yet."
The game got off to a slow start as both teams struggled to make baskets. Senior transfer Antino Jackson opened the scoring with a layup in the first minute of the game, but the score was just 4-2 heading into the first media timeout.
New Mexico was still missing a lot of open shots while its opponent started finding its stroke. The Aggies got balanced scoring on an 11-5 mini-run to snag a five point lead, making the score 18-13 with 8:49 to play in the first half.
The lead swelled to 23-16 later in the period and the Lobos appeared to be in trouble. But Jachai Simmons made a driving layup to cut into the deficit and was fouled along the way. Although he missed the free throw, UNM collected the rebound and Anthony Mathis completed a four point play after he drew contact while knocking down a shot from downtown.
Mathis gave the Lobos the lead on the ensuing possession with a pair of free throws, but the lead changed hands several times and the two schools traded shots down the stretch. New Mexico held a two-point left but gave up a couple of quick baskets in the final 13 seconds and went into the break trailing 35-33.
New Mexico State's Zach Lofton led all scorers with 10 points in the first half, including a layup at the buzzer after AJ Harris blocked Chris McNeal on a 3-point attempt from the corner and flung the ball ahead to him.
The Lobos got off to a shaky start, turning the ball over on the first possession of the second half, but were able to hang around despite a couple of Aggie buckets early in the frame.
The team appeared to make some adjustments at halftime and started picking up steam as Jackson nailed a 3-point basket and UNM scored three straight layups to tilt the score in its favor at 44-41 at the 13:52 mark.
UNM enjoyed its largest lead of the game after freshman Makuach Maluach hammered home a dunk that gave this team a 54-45 advantage and the Lobos appeared to be in full control as New Mexico State called timeout with the crowd in a frenzy with 10 minutes remaining.
The Lobos went cold from there though, but still held an eight point bulge after Troy Simons made a layup—the team's lone remaining field goal in the game—with 6:40 to play, making the score 56-48.
The Aggies engineered an 11-2 run that spanned just over four minutes to move out in front 59-58, prompting a UNM timeout.
But the timeout didn't seem to help settle things down. New Mexico turned the ball over trying to inbound the ball out of the timeout, which the Aggies quickly converted into a layup and a three-point lead.
New Mexico had a couple of cracks at tying the game in the final seconds. Down 64-62 with 14.9 second to play, UNM missed a 3-point attempt as well as a chance at a put back from Simons and the Lobos were forced to foul.
The Aggies left the door open after Lofton split his free throw attempts and Mathis got a good look at a potential game-tying 3-point attempt. But his shot was just off line and caromed off the rim as time expired and NMSU held on for the 65-62 win.
Mathis said that was a shot he has practiced a lot and will probably be replaying it in his head. Though he would probably like to have another crack and making that deep attempt, the game shouldn't have come down to that shot.
UNM went 0-for-8 over the final six minutes and change and committed five costly turnovers during that stretch as well—the mental errors coming when the team could least afford it.
Weir said he felt sorry for the fans and for the players that they weren't able to get the job done. But he seemed to indicate the lessons the men are learning are the kind of on-the-job training that will serve them well later on the season.
"We live in such an instant gratification society; everyone wants it all now and everyone wants to feel the reward for something immediately," the head coach said. "But I believe that really great things in life take time."
Lofton ended the night with a game-high 22 points, while Jackson paced the Lobos with 14 points. He and Simons, who had 13 on the night, combined to hit half of New Mexico's eight 3-pointers for the game.
The Aggies were awful from beyond the arc, hitting just 20 percent of their shots from distance. The team also struggled from the free throw line, where it shot just 50 percent.
New Mexico will be faced with a big challenge as the Arizona Wildcats come to Albuquerque on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. to take on the Lobos.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.