Friday, Carlton Bragg walked across a graduation stage to accept a diploma.
Saturday, he celebrated his 24th birthday by etching his name into the lore of the Rio Grande Rivalry, pulling down 17 rebounds, scoring 17 points, drawing 10 fouls, blocking a shot and coming up with four steals to lead UNM to a 69-62 win over the New Mexico State Aggies.
The victory gives UNM men’s basketball its first sweep in the rivalry since 2015.
“Last year, I had to take it on the chin, just seeing it (the rivalry) and them beating us,” said Bragg, who missed both games against NMSU in the 2018-19 while sitting out as a mid-season transfer per NCAA rules.
“But this one, felt way better. … It was amazing. I can’t even explain it. One of the best games I ever played in.”
The win in front of an often times thunderous announced crowd of 14,488 in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit — the largest crowd of the season for either team and largest in the Pit since Marc 1, 2016, vs San Diego State — pushed the Lobos to 10-2 on the season (2-0 in Mountain West play), and dropped the struggling Aggies to 6-6.
In a series that has been dominated in the past several years in the paint by the Aggies, Saturday was Bragg’s turn to steal the show.
The 6-foot-10 forward, who actually does have a class left to finish before officially finalizing his degree in interpersonal communications with a minor in business, scored the game’s first two points on Saturday on free throws — a sign of things to come. Bragg drew 10 fouls from Aggie defenders in the game and was 9-of-10 from the free throw line and was at times unstoppable at the rim, setting the tone in the game.
His back-to-back alley-oop dunks early in the second half were part of a 12-0 run that spanned the final 2 minutes of the first half and first three minutes of the second half and turned a 33-26 Aggies lead into a 38-33 Lobos lead with 16:57 remaining in the game.
“He was terrific,” NMSU coach Chris Jans said of Bragg. “He did what he does best and make athletic plays. He can make a hook shot once in a while, obviously, but how he stuffs the stat sheet is being athletic and rebounding the ball at both ends. … He seems to me, from the film I watched, it seems to me he gets better and better with each outing.”
NMSU had four players score in double figures, including Trevelin Queen going for 19 points and eight assists. Queen hit back-to-back 3-pointers — two of NMSU’s 10 in the game — to give the Aggies a 47-44 lead midway through the second half, but the Lobos answered again with a 9-0 run and never trailed again.
Terrell Brown’s 3-pointer with 5:12 left pulled NMSU within 55-54, but the Lobos then used an 8-0 run to build up enough of a lead that the Aggies had to foul down the stretch to extend the game. UNM answered by hitting 12 of 16 free throws in the final 4:24 and the Lobos were 23-of-28 (82.1%) from the line for the game. NMSU was 4-of-10 at the line.
“We’ve had it all year,” UNM coach Paul Weir said when asked about his team’s ability to come up big in big moments. “I just told the guys, this isn’t on me. Obviously I’m going to get a lot of credit when we win and a lot of blame when we lose. But these guys, they’re perseverance, their resiliency is awesome. And it’s been that way all year long.”
Lobo senior guard JaQuan Lyle had 16 points and five assists for UNM.
NMSU out-rebounded UNM 35-33 and 12-10 on the offensive boards, but after grabbing seven offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes, the Aggies had just five over the next 32.
MISSING: The Aggies, as they have been all season, were missing two of last season’s regular starters in point guard A.J. Harris and guard Clayton Henry. Both are expected back around the time conference play starts in January.
For the Lobos, Utah transfer Vante Hendrix did not suit up Saturday. He took 18 credit hours this fall semester and not all grades had posted on Saturday, the team said in an email sent before the game. Hendrix, a 6-5 guard, is expected to join the team in the coming week.
SERIES: UNM leads the all-time series 123-101 … The last sweep of NMSU by the Lobos happened under Craig Neal on Nov. 15 and Dec. 16, 2015.
New Mexico State: The Aggies are home against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wednesday (7 p.m., 99.5 FM Las Cruces, 1150 AM Albuquerque, the WAC.tv’s pay site). They will have two additional tune-ups before Western Athletic Conference play begins at the start of the new year.
New Mexico: The Lobos are at home Tuesday (7 p.m., themw.com, 770 AM/94.5 FM) against Grand Canyon in the second of the four-game home stand to end the year before Mountain West play begins in earnest in January.
BOX SCORE: UNM 69, New Mexico State 62