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NMSU men no longer perfect in WAC

OREM,. Utah — Utah Valley coach Mark Pope was full of praise for the New Mexico State Aggies basketball team Thursday night.

“They are a great team,” he said during a postgame press conference.

“They’re rebound monsters,” Pope said. “New Mexico State has five guys who could be player of the year, but this one guy Jemerrio Jones — it’s hard not to say he’s the player of the year.”

Pope was in a good mood.

His Wolverines had just knocked off the team that entered the contest undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play.

New Mexico State lost control of a tight game with 5 minutes left to play as Utah Valley parlayed a late 10-0 run into an 86-79 victory at the UCCU Center.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” Aggies coach Chris Jans said. “A lot of credit has to go to Utah Valley. They certainly were excited to play us. They were ready and they played an awfully good game.

“If you had told me before the game that we would have shot 55 percent on the road, had 23 assists on 31 baskets, normally our defensive rebounding would have been good enough to carry us to a victory.”

On this night, the rebound edge (27-25) went to the home team as Utah State (18-8, 7-3) stayed within shouting distance of New Mexico State (22-4, 9-1) heading down the stretch of the WAC race.

The Aggies led 68-66 when A.J. Harris hit a jumper shortly after he secured an offensive rebound at the 5:40 mark. But the Wolverines countered with a pair of free throws by Jerrelle DeBerry to tie.

A big defensive play, a block by Utah Valley’s Conner Toolson on an attempted Aggies’ 3-pointer, kept the momentum with the home team. After that block, with 4:41 on the clock, UVU’s Kenneth Ogbe hit a 3-pointer.

Then Toolson swished another long-range shot and Ogbe followed that with a drive and bank shot high off the glass for a 76-68 lead.

New Mexico State was led by Zach Lofton’s 19 points. Sidy N’Dir had 13.

The Wolverines, who had 3-pointers from five players, were led by Ogbe’s 22 points. Brandon Randolph had 17 points.

In the first meeting between the two teams, the Aggies won 86-59 in Las Cruces on Jan. 20.

After its first league loss, NMSU will travel to play at Seattle University in a 2 p.m. game Saturday.

“We were on a mission and we knew this road trip was going to be very difficult. Unfortunately, we’re oh-for-one on this swing,” Jans said.

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