PHOENIX – NM State came up just short in its road battle with Grand Canyon as a last-second shot lifted the Lopes past the Aggies by a score of 61-59.
The Aggies were led by Mel Isbell who went 4-for-7 from three-point range and finished with 14 points, two rebounds and two steals. Sophomore Taylor Donaldson was effective off the bench once again as she tallied 12 points to go along with four steals. Bigue Sarr was NM State’s leading rebounder as she pulled down seven boards in just 11 minutes of play.
As a group, NM State shot 42 percent from the floor, including 40 percent from deep while forcing 21 turnovers. Despite the Aggies being one of the better rebounding teams in the WAC, the Lopes led in that category as they pulled down 31 boards compared to the Aggies’ 29.
The Lopes were led by the post play of Jay McChristine who finished with a game-high 19 points in addition to recording seven rebounds. UT Rio Grande Valley transfer Amara Graham also reached double-digits as she posted 13 points, including the most important two points of the game with 0.3 seconds remaining.
Both teams came out ice-cold as the two programs combined to go 0-8 from the field to start the game before a Mel Isbell three-pointer at the 6:46 mark ended the dry spell.
A second foul call on Bigue Sarr at just the 5:33 point in the first quarter would sit the Aggies’ most efficient scorer for the remainder of the half.
Following Isbell’s three, the Lopes went on a 10-2 scoring run that put them out front 13-5 with 3:36 remaining in the half.
However, the Aggies responded as Jade Bradley knocked down a three and scored eight straight to bring the score to where it would stay for the remainder of the quarter at 13-13.
Both defenses were stout in the first as the Aggies recorded four steals and forced eight turnovers while GCU forced nine turnovers themselves.
The Lopes’ Amara Graham started the second quarter scoring as she went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line.
NM State’s Molly Kaiser came back down the floor and hit a jumper to give the Aggies their first lead of the game at 15-14 with 9:04 left on the clock in the second quarter.
The Aggies were plagued with turnover issues in the first half as they gave the ball away 15 times in the first 20 minutes of the game. The Lopes capitalized on several turnovers in the middle of the quarter to give themselves a five-point lead with 6:46 remaining
A trio of Aggie starters had the answer for Brooke Atkinson‘s squad as Bradley, Tayelin Grays and Soufia Inoussa combined to help the Aggies go on a 6-2 run and cut the deficit to one point with 5:01 left.
On the heels of a made Grand Canyon three-pointer, the Aggies received a made basket from Bradley and a big-time triple from Kayla Watkins to push the Aggies ahead 26-25 with 2:51 remaining.
The Aggies were dialed in from deep as they eclipsed their season average in three-pointers made per game in just one half of basketball as Watkins’ hit was one of four triples that fell in the first 20 minutes.
The three-pointer also came amid an 8-4 Aggie run to close the half as NM State fought back to bring it to a 29-29 tie at the break.
Similar to the first two quarters, the third was mostly back and forth as it featured four lead changes.
After playing just four minutes and being held scoreless in the first half, Bigue Sarr scored the first three points for the Aggies, all coming from the free-throw line.
The Aggies’ hot shooting from three-point land carried over to the third as Mel Isbell hit back-to-back bombs to give the Aggies a lead of three points at the 7:13 mark.
Grand Canyon then answered with a quick 4-0 run before Shania Harper turned a Bradley pass into a layup.
After Harper’s two, Isbell continued her strong offensive afternoon as she used a ball fake to get into the arch and knock down a jumper from the elbow, giving the Aggies a 42-39 lead with 4:14 left.
· Taylor Donaldson also got in on the action from deep as she knocked down a three-pointer for the Aggies at the 3:16 mark.
Sarr’s first field goal of the game would come with just 54 seconds remaining in the third as she gave the Aggies a two-point lead.
Grand Canyon would then hit a three-pointer to close the third quarter and carry a one-point advantage into the fourth quarter.
After giving up the lead in the final seconds of the fourth, the Aggies came out with a purpose in the fourth as they scored the first four points of the quarter to take a three-point lead with 9:37 to play.
Following a pair of successful possessions for the Lopes that left the game tied, the Aggies went back out front with a free throw from Deja Terrell.
A beautiful move from Taylor Donaldson in which she spun baseline and used the glass gave put NM State back up by three with just under five minutes to play.
However, GCU would score the next five points over the following two minutes to take on a two-point lead.
· Mel Isbell then hit her fourth three of the game to recapture the lead and give herself a team-high 14 points.
· Deja Terrell then turned a steal into a highlight as she went coast-to-coast for the layup to give the Aggies another three-point lead with 1:36 to play.
The Lopes then scored five unanswered points, including a game-winning jumper from Amara Graham to earn their sixth win in WAC play.
The Aggies will now begin a tough three-week stretch in which they are scheduled to play three games each week.
To open next week, NM State will welcome UT Rio Grande Valley to the Pan American Center where tip-off is set for noon on Monday, Jan. 31.