EDINBURG — New Mexico State held off the UTRGV down the stretch, snapping the Vaqueros’ four-game home winning streak with a 67-62 win Saturday night at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
Aggie forwards Ivan Aurrecoechea and Johnny McCants combined to score 31 points, on 12-for-15 shooting, as the Aggies won their ninth game in a row. New Mexico State improved to 15-6 overall and 6-0 in the WAC.
Overall, UTRGV has dropped three straight and eight of its last 10 games. It is now 6-13 and 2-4.
The loss, in front of a sold out crowd of more than 2,600, offset Vaquero guard Jordan Jackson’s performance. He led all scorers with 26 points, and shot 10-for-14 from the field.
“We battled all night,” Jackson, the son of Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes, said. “My teammates did a great job getting me the ball. Everybody helped out tonight.”
Jackson scored at least 20 points for the fourth time this season. Teammate Lesley Varner II added 13 points and five rebounds while Quinton Johnson II added nine points.
“The effort and passion were there but I’d like to play better defensively,” UTRGV’s fourth-year head coach Lew Hill said. “I’m real proud of their effort.”
Hill appreciated the boisterous crowd support.
“(It was) beautiful,” he began. “I hope they saw the excitement.”
The Aggies led by seven at halftime (36-29) and opened a 12-point margin in the second half after New Mexico State’s Evan Gilyard drained a 3-pointer for a 60-48 lead with 6:30 remaining.
The Vaqueros outscored the Aggies 14-7 the rest of the way as UTRGV turned up the defensive heat. They closed to within one possession of tying the game when Jackson hit a fadeaway jumper to cut the score to 65-62 with 32 seconds left.
After Aurrecoechea, of Madrid, Spain, hit two free throws for a 67-62 lead, the Vaqueros generated two shots (both misses) before the Aggies got a rebound with 10 seconds showing and dribbled out the clock.
“We sped up (the tempo),” Hill said. “The pressure at the end of the game did hurt them some.”
The Vaqueros came out firing. In the opening seconds, Jackson stole the ball, sprinted toward the hoop, and punched in a thunderous dunk to loud cheers. UTRGV led 12-7 before New Mexico State generated a 9-0 run capped by C.J. Bobbitt’s 12-foot-jumper for a 15-12 Aggie lead.
“We certainly expected a battle and we got one,” Aggies head coach Chris Jans said. “We had a hard time guarding Jackson. I was proud of our guys to figure out a way to win the game.”
Regarding the play of Aurrecoechea (19 points) and McCants (12 points), Jans noted the pair have played well the past three games. The Aggies outscored UTRGV 30-16 in the paint.
“That’s where our strength is right now,” Jans said.
Hill acknowledged his team could have fronted the two Aggie forwards better but did not want to double-team down low and risk giving up open 3-point shots.
The Aggies shot nearly 56% (25-of-45) from the field while UTRGV hit 24 of 48 shots (50%). New Mexico State hit eight 3-pointers on 20 attempts (40%) while the Vaqueros nailed just five of 15 treys (33%).
UTRGV committed only five turnovers in the second half after committing 14 in the first half.
The Aggies have now beaten UTRGV 17 consecutive times dating back to 2002.
The Vaqueros will play host to WAC opponent Grand Canyon at 7 p.m. Thursday.