LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KFOX14/CBS4) — Johnny McCants played the hero Thursday night when he drained a half-court shot as time expired and lifted the New Mexico State men's basketball team past Grand Canyon 77-75 in the conference home-opener for the Aggies.
What could've been a catastrophic meltdown with NM State up 74-71 and 1:26 left to go, back-to-back turnovers by AJ Harris led to four-straight points for Damari Milstead – which gave the Lopes a 74-73 lead.
However, a missed free-throw from GCU's Trey Drechsel on the front-end of a 1-and-1 gave way to the heroic game-winning shot from McCants.
The first-half Thursday night saw a lot of back-and-forth action and saw the game tied on seven occasions with four lead changes.
New Mexico State (12-4, 1-1 WAC) had led for most of the first 20 minutes thanks to timely 3-pointers from Keyon Jones and Terrell Brown. However, the final lead change came with 51 seconds left in the half when GCU's Gerard Martin drained a three followed by free-throws from Alessandro Lever gave the visitors a 41-38 advantage over the Aggies heading into the break.
The Aggies came out with a different energy in the second-half, getting eight of its first 10 points from Ivan Aurrecoechea before back-to-back 3-pointers from Brown and Jones forced a Grand Canyon (9-7, 2-1 WAC) timeout and the 59-53 Aggie lead.
A 7-0 spurt by the Lopes gave them a short 60-59 lead before consecutive baskets from Aurrecoechea put the Aggies back on top 63-60 with 5:56 left to play. From that point on, NM State held a narrow lead the rest of the way. Alessandro Lever tied things up at 69-69 with 2:33 remaining, but a lay-up from Harris followed by a hustle play from Aurrecoechea on the defensive end led to the 74-69 lead before GCU retook the lead with 25 ticks remaining.
Aurrecoechea finished with a game-high 20 points and 11 boards for his fourth double-double of the season. McCants, the hometown hero wrapped up the night with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting while Jones chipped in with 12 points and five boards of his own. Brown rounded out the list of double-digit scorers for NM State with 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting – all coming from 3-point range. Meanwhile Harris ended the night with nine points a season-high seven assists.
BY THE NUMBERS
Thursday night was just the fourth time NM State has been outrebounded this season, 37-32Aggies move to 3-1 when being outrebounded by opponents this yearthis is the second-straight game where NM State had four players register in double-figuresthe .500 clip shooting tonight was just the fourth time this season the Aggies shot 50-percent or better in a game this seasonwith the win the Aggies remain undefeated against Grand Canyon at home, moving to 7-0 all-time in the Pan American Center and 11-2 all-time.
New Mexico State remains home to wrap up a short two-game homestand as it welcomes CSU Bakersfield into the Pan American Center for a 4 p.m. (MT) tip-off on the WAC Digital Network. For tickets, visit the Pan American Center ticket office or by calling 575-646-1420. As a reminder, Friday will be the last day to take advantage of the 4 for $40 promotion for Saturday's conference match-up against the Runners.