PHOENIX – The state of NM came shortly before in its road battle with the Grand Canyon when a last-second shot lifted the Lopes over the Aggies with a score of 61-59.
The Aggies were led by Mel Isbell who went 4 of 7 three-pointers and finished with 14 points, two rebounds and two steals. Second year Taylor Donaldson was once again effective off the bench when he scored 12 points and four steals. Bigue Sarr was NM State’s main rebounder when she took down seven aces in just 11 minutes of play.
As a group, NM State shot 42% from the floor, including 40% from deep, forcing 21 turnovers. Despite the Aggies being one of the best rebound teams in the WAC, the Lopes were leading in that category as they took down 31 boards compared to 29 for the Aggies.
The Lopes were led by Jay McChristine’s post play who finished with a record of 19 points as well as posting seven rebounds. The transfer of UT Rio Grande Valley Amara Graham also hit double digits with 13 points, including the two most important points of the game with 0.3 seconds left.
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Both teams went freezing cold as the two schedules combined to go 0-8 off the field to start the match before a Mel Isbell triple at 6:46 put an end to the drought spell. A second foul on Bigue Sarr at 5:33 in the first quarter would be the Aggies’ top scorer for the rest of the time.
After Isbell’s three, the Lopes scored 10-2 which put them ahead 13-5 with 3:36 remaining in the half. However, the Aggies responded when Jade Bradley knocked down a three and hit an eight in a row to get the score where it would remain for the remainder of the quarter at 13-13. Both defenses were sturdy in the first as the Aggies recorded four turnovers and forced eight turnovers while the GCU itself forced nine turnovers.
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Amara Graham of the Lopes started the second quarter by scoring going 1 for 2 from the free throw line. NM State’s Molly Kaiser returned to the ground 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 problems in the first half as they gave away the ball 15 times in the first 20 minutes of play. The Lopes capitalized on several turnovers midway through the quarter to take a five-point lead with 6:46 remaining. A trio of Aggie starters had the answer for Brooke Atkinson’s side as Bradley, Tayelin Grays and Soufia Inoussa teamed up to help the Aggies score a 6-2 run and narrow the gap to a point at 5:01. from the end.
In the wake of a Grand Canyon triple, the Aggies received a shot from Bradley and a triple from Kayla Watkins to put the Aggies ahead 26-25 with 2:51 to go. The Aggies were called from deep down as they eclipsed their season average in three points per game in just half of basketball as Watkins’ success was one of four triples fallen in the first 20 minutes.
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The triple also came in the middle of Aggie’s 8-4 to close the time as NM State reacted to bring him back to a 29-29 tie at half time.
Similar to the first two quarters, the third was mostly back and forth as it featured four changes of lead. After playing just four minutes and keeping goalless in the first half, Bigue Sarr scored the first three points for the Aggies, all from the free-throw line.
The Aggies’ hot three-point shot was carried over to third when Mel Isbell struck consecutive bombs to give the Aggies a three-point lead at 7:13. The Grand Canyon then responded with a quick 4-0 before Shania Harper turned a Bradley pass into a layup.
After Harper’s two, Isbell continued his strong offensive afternoon as he used a mock ball to enter the arc and take down an elbow jumper, giving the Aggies a 42-39 lead with 4:14 left. Taylor Donaldson also came into action from the deep when she took down a triple for the Aggies at 3:16.
Sarr’s first field goal of the match would come with just 54 seconds remaining in the third as it gave the Aggies a two-point lead. The Grand Canyon would then score a triple to close the third quarter and take a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
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After relinquishing the lead in the closing seconds of the quarter, the Aggies came out with purpose in the quarter by scoring the first four points of the quarter to take a three-point lead with 9:37 to play. After a couple of successful possessions for the Lopes who left the game tied, the Aggies came back forward with a free throw from Deja Terrell.
A nice move by Taylor Donaldson in which she turned on the baseline and used glass set NM State back three with just under five minutes to play. However, GCU would score the next five points over the next two minutes to take a two-point lead.
Mel Isbell then scored his quarter three of the game to regain the lead and set himself a 14-point record. 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 winning jumper from Amara Graham to earn their sixth win in the WAC game.
The Aggies will now begin a tough three week period where they will play three games each week. To open next week, NM State will welcome UT Rio Grande Valley at the Pan American Center, where the start is set for noon on Monday, January 31st.