Hawaii played with more urgency at home on Saturday, keeping slim hopes for a conference title alive while ending New Mexico State’s six-game losing streak.
Hawaii held off a late NMSU rally for a 91-87 victory in Hawaii on Saturday to hand the Aggies their first conference loss of the season, falling behind unbeaten Nevada into second place in the Western Athletic Conference.
NMSU fell to 14-6 on the year and 4-1 in the WAC while Hawaii improved to 3-2 in conference play.
After missing Hawaii’s loss to Louisiana Tech with the flu, Hawaii senior Zane Johnson put the Warriors on his shoulders.
Johnson finished with 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 7-for-13 from 3-point range. Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Aggies closed to within six early in the second half but Johnson drained a triple. He put Hawaii up with another 3 off an inbounds pass from the top of the key to open a 63-46 lead with 14:24 to play. Hawaii led by as many as 19 with under 11 minutes left to play.
Also returning to the lineup for Hawaii was point guard Jeremiah Ostrowski, who returned after missing Thursday’s game with a staph infection to finish with nine points, eight assists and four steals.
NMSU closed to within four on a Bandja Sy 3-pointer that climbed over the rim with 26.1 seconds left. NMSU went small and turned up the pressure, clawing back into the game with an 18-8 flurry in the last 2:49.
Sy led the Aggies with 17 points to go with 10 rebounds as NMSU had 19 offensive rebounds and finished 40.7 percent from the floor. Senior center Hamidu Rahman finished with 16 points, Wendell McKines had 14 points and nine rebounds, Hernst Laroche scored 13 points and Daniel Mullings scored 12 points. Tyrone Watson finished with nine points and led the Aggies with five of the team’s season-high 18 assists.
Hawaii shot 46 percent from the floor and 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) from 3-point range.
Despite two fouls to Hawaii center Vander Joaquim in the first half, the Warriors led 44-34 at halftime thanks to 18 first half points from Johnson.
NMSU trailed 23-11 after a 16-1 Hawaii run. The Aggies closed to within one on a Sy dunk, but Hawaii outscored NMSU 8-0 to end the half and push the lead back to double digits.
Johnson was 4-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half as Hawaii shot 39.5 percent from the field in the first half.
After a slow start, NMSU got into the paint and finished the first half shooting 34 percent from the floor. Without Joaquim in the post, Rahman scored 12 points in the first half and Sy scored seven of his 11 points in the first half. Not only did NMSU get Joaquim into early foul trouble, but backup center Davis Rozitis fouled out in the first half with nine points, five rebounds and three blocks.