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Lobos Edged by No. 22 Utah State 87-85

by Steve Kirkland

LOGAN, Utah – The New Mexico men’s basketball team ended the regular season with a 87-85 loss at No. 22 Utah State on Saturday night at the Smith Spectrum. The Lobos (22-9, 10-8 MW) came up short in a back-and-forth contest that saw the Aggies (26-5, 14-4) win the outright regular season title.

Mustapha Azmil scored a season-high 18 points to lead New Mexico. Donovan Dent scored 17 points, while Jaelen House added 15 points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds. JT Toppin had 14 points while Nelly Junior Joseph had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

The Lobos had a quick start, scoring the first four points of the game in the opening 30 seconds. Both teams were making shots early, as the game was tied 14-14 after five minutes of play. The Aggies used a 6-0 run to take a 20-14 edge with 13:45 to play. The Lobos tied the game, 27-27, at the midway point of the half with a 6-0 run over their own on back-to-back triples from Amzil. A 6-0 Aggie run followed to give them a 33-27 lead with 7:45 left before UNM would tie the game, 35-35, with 4:45 to go. Five straight free throws from House gave the Lobos a 42-38 lead with 3:10 left in the half. Dent’s layup in the final minute gave UNM a 44-39 lead it took to the break. Amzil had 13 points, tying his previous season high, in the first half to lead the Lobos.

In the second half, the Aggies scored the first six points to retake the lead, 45-44, with 18:00 to go. Utah State extended the advantage to 52-48 with just under 16:00 to go before a 5-0 run by the Lobos switched the lead again. A triple from Jemarl Baker, Jr. gave the Lobos a 65-59 lead with 11:00 to go as they led 65-61 at the midway point. The Aggies’ 5-0 run the margin to one before the teams traded baskets for several minutes. The game was tied at 70-70 with 7:30 to play and at 78-78 with 3:20 to go. Utah State led 82-78 before a Dent layup cut the margin in half with 2:10 left in the game. Dent’s layup with just over a minute tied the game before the Aggies scored to retake the lead. House would tie the game with a jumper with 35 seconds left before Utah State hit a three with 4.2 seconds left. House was fouled with 2.8 left, made the first and missed the second on purpose, but although the shot never hit the rim, time was allowed to expire.

• With Jamal Mashburn, Jr. out (illness), the Lobos had to change their starting five for the first time after starting the same five the first 17 conference games
• Jaelen House had three steals, giving him 119 in his career in Mountain West games, two shy of the conference record of 121, set by BYU’s Jackson Emery (Emery played four years in the conference, House played three)

“That was a heck of a college basketball game. Obviously, we were dealt a bad blow with one our captains and one of the better guards in our league (Mashburn) coming down with the flu. Our guys fought admirably. It was back and forth and they just made one more play than we did. I didn’t mind the defense on the final play. Darius Brown made an NBA three and give him credit for hitting that shot.” – Richard Pitino

The Lobos will travel to Las Vegas next week for the Mountain West Tournament. The event begins Wednesday, March 13, at the Thomas & Mack Center.