Fresh off their first loss of the season Thursday night to UTEP, the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team (5-1, 0-0 MWC) bounced back with a last-minute 78-77 win against in-state rival New Mexico State University (2-3).
A pair of late free throws by senior forward Carlton Bragg sealed UNM’s victory in a battle between the state’s only Division I programs.
Thursday night’s matchup brought all the usual Rio Grande rivalry drama, with seven ties and 12 lead changes throughout the close contest. Neither team held a double-digit lead during the entirety of the game.
The Lobos were once again led by their marquee senior duo of JaQuan Lyle outing up 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and Bragg with 14 points, six boards, and a game-high four steals.
After going down with an apparent leg injury Tuesday night against UTEP, Bragg was ready to go for the NMSU slate and managed to record 30 minutes on the floor.
NMSU’s lead guard Trevelin Queen’s 23 points and nine rebounds weren’t enough to keep the Aggies afloat, with the team shooting 14-32 (43.8 percent) from the field in both halves, including an abysmal 7-33 (21.2%) from beyond the arc.
Still, it was the Aggies who went into the half on top, forcing UNM to play catchup. A Zane Martin jumper in the waning moments of the opening frame cut NMSU’s lead to 39-37 at halftime.
Throughout the second half, the game became a back-and-forth affair. A layup in transition by junior forward Makuach Maluach put UNM up 47-46, giving the Lobos their first lead since the 18:16 mark in the game’s opening minutes.
Senior guard Terrell Brown for State countered with a jumper of his own, putting the Aggies up by one just 16 seconds later. This would prove to be the only field goal converted by NMSU in the final 3:14 of game time, as UNM would end the game on a 7-2 run.
With 49 seconds to go, Bragg was sent to the free-throw line on a loose ball foul, sinking both shots and putting UNM up for good, 78-77. Things got dicey for UNM in the last 30 seconds, as both teams traded turnovers — two each.
A missed Caldwell free throw with four seconds remaining left the door open for the Aggies, but the Lobo defense remained strong. NMSU’s final possessions each resulted in missed three-pointers, as the Lobos prevented the Aggies from getting an open look in the closing seconds.
Bragg’s free throws secured the victory for the Lobos, who ranks first in the nation in free-throw attempts (170) and second in free throws made (124).
With the win, UNM improved to 122-101 all-time against NMSU, while handing the Aggies just their 13th loss at home since the 2011-12 season.
For head coach Paul Weir, the victory meant more than just improving to 5-1, his best start with UNM’s to date. Weir coached the Aggies for a decade before coming to UNM in 2017.
“Getting this win meant a lot, especially for my guy [Weir],” Lyle said after the game. “We had a very emotional moment after the game… I’m just happy to see him happy. For the university, I’m just happy we got this one for all of our fans.”
The Lobos will hit the hardwood again on Monday, November 25, at 7:30 p.m. for the 2019 Roman Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York to face the undefeated no. 19 Auburn Tigers coming off a Final Four appearance in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Joe Rull is the multimedia editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RullJoe