ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Elijah Brown scored 29 points, Obij Aget added 10 points and 10 rebounds and New Mexico held on for a 64-59 win over San Diego State in the season finale for both teams Saturday night.
Tim Williams also had 10 points for the Lobos, who secured a No. 5 seed and first-round bye in the upcoming Mountain West Tournament with the win.
After a mediocre first half, New Mexico (17-13, 10-8) opened the second period with an 18-4 run that included a 3-pointer from Jordan Hunter to go up 43-28 with 13:45 to play. The Aztecs kept chipping away, drawing to within four on Montaque Gill-Caesar’s free throw to trail 63-59 with eight seconds left.
Jordan Hunter stretched the advantage back to five with a free throw at the other end and New Mexico got the rebound after San Diego State’s Jeremy Hemsley missed a 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer.
San Diego State (17-13, 9-9) was led by Zylan Cheatham, who scored 13 points in just 10 minutes of game time.
“We just didn’t play well,” said San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher. “You just aren’t going to win very many basketball games if you don’t score.”
San Diego State’s Malik Pope and Matt Shrigley made the difference in the first half – Pope at the free throw line, where he sank 3 of 4 shots and Shrigley from 3-point range, where he hit two quick shots early in the half.
UNM Coach Craig Neal said the success of the second half started before his team headed to the locker room at half-time.
“We were down by six and were able to finish the half up one,” Neal said. “That momentum really carried us over into the second half.”
UNM was able to improve its shooting in the second half making nearly 44 percent of their shots and 66 percent of their free throws. The Lobos finished the game shooting nearly 36 percent for the field. Brown hit 15 of 17 at the free throw line.
Fisher said Cheatham was a bright spot coming off the bench, but he wasn’t able to get enough from his starters.
“This is a tough place to win, but it can be done if you are ready,” Fisher said. “We just weren’t ready.”
UNM Senior Tim Williams, in his first game since Jan. 30, played 31 minutes in the game, an amount that Neal said was too much. He explained that foul trouble and a shallow bench made it necessary to play Williams.
“I really didn’t want him in there, but we really had no other option,” Neal said.
New Mexico finished with 11 assists on its 19 buckets and shot 36 percent from the field overall, holding San Diego State to 32 percent shooting.
Both the Aztecs and Lobos are finishing out a season they would probably be happy to forget. At one point the Lobos were in contention for the regular season championship.
However, UNM’s Williams was benched for seven games for a stress reaction in his foot. During that time the Lobos went 4-5. His return on Saturday had little impact in the statistics, but Neal said it was his leadership that made the difference.
“We’re just a better team with Tim in the game. Everyone just wants to play better then,” Neal said.
Fisher has had the Aztecs ready to play the past several seasons and was picked to finish near the top of the Mountain West standings this season. Instead, they found themselves fighting the Lobos for a No. 5 seed and a bye in the Mountain West Tournament.
San Diego’s Zylan Cheatham came off the bench to score a team high 13 points. The Aztecs’ 3-point sharpshooter Matt Shrigley had two quick 3-pointers to start the game, but UNM’s defense shut him down early and he closed out the game with six points.
UNM senior Obij Aget played his last game at Wise Pies Arena and he left in style. Aget got 21 minutes of playing time and made the most of them with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Aztecs will face University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament on March 8.
New Mexico will face Fresno State on Thursday, March 9 in Las Vegas in the second round of the MWC Tournament.
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