New Mexico State ended the regular season in dramatic fashion on Saturday at Fresno State.
The Aggies erased a 19-point second-half deficit and beat Fresno State 83-78 in overtime to close the regular season 23-9 and 10-4 in the Western Athletic Conference.
“We showed much more patience in the second half and our spacing was better,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “We took advantage of a smaller lineup and had more energy.”
NMSU outscored Fresno State 16-11 in OT, led by senior Wendell McKines, who scored nine of his 20 points in overtime. McKines also pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds, all on the defensive end. McKines hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Aggies up for good. The first came with 2:14 left in overtime to put NMSU up 73-72. He hit another the next time down to finish 4-for-8 from 3-point range.
“In overtime, my teammates found me and believed in me,” said McKines, who missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation. “I’m just a confident person and don’t let the shots that I miss affect the next open shot. I always believe the next one is going to go in.”
The win clinched the No. 2 seed for next week’s WAC Tournament in Las Vegas. The same teams will play again in the 3:30 p.m., WAC Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas on Thursday.
“It’s a quick turnaround,” said Menzies, whose team swept the Bulldogs in the regular season. “There is not a whole lot of time to get put many things in but you can tweak things. We just have to make our adjustments.”
NMSU trailed by 16 at halftime and by as many as 19 with 16:27 to play before Aggies junior wing Bandja Sy exploded.
Sy scored a career-high 22 points, knocking down a 3-pointer and converting a free throw for a four-point play to pull the Aggies to within four with 7:59 to play. Sy completed the comeback with another triple with 5:15 left to make it a three-point game and then a jumper with 1:52 left to put NMSU up 65-64.
“Bandja was the one that got us into overtime,” McKines said. “He was making shots that I have personally seen him working on.”
Former New Mexico player Jonathan Willis hit a triple with 14 seconds left to tie the game at 67-67 at the end of regulation.
The Aggies were 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) from 3-point range and 22-for-28 (78.6 percent) from the foul line. The Aggies hit all 7 triples in the second half.
Fresno State scored 17 of its 41 first-half points off 10 NMSU turnovers for a 41-25 halftime lead.
Fresno State guard Kevin Olekaibe scored 16 of his 23 points in the first half on 4-for-6 shooting from 3-point range as the Bulldogs were 53.6 percent from the floor in the first half and 5-for-12 from 3-point range. The Aggies shot 30.8 percent from the floor in the first half, matching their lowest point total for a half on the season.
“There were a lot of ups and downs to the season and a lot of different situations that created that but I tell the kids all the time that every season is like a lifetime,” Menzies said.
Let the postseason begin.