New Mexico State routs Grand Canyon in WAC title game

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              New Mexico State guard Trevelin Queen (20) and Grand Canyon's Alessandro Lever vie for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Western Athletic Conference men's tournament championship Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle said his Antelopes ran out of gas.

New Mexico State junior Trevelin Queen said the Aggies were all gas and no brakes.

Queen fueled the Aggies’ offense by scoring 27 points to lead New Mexico State past Grand Canyon 89-57 on Saturday night for its third straight Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth.

“My role on the team is to bring energy, and stay positive and bring my teammates up,” said Queen, who finished 9 of 15 from the field, including 6 of 11 from 3-point range. “Every shot I shot, it just touched me. I almost cried on the court after every shot.”

Ivan Aurrecoechea scored 16 points and Clayton Henry added 14. The Aggies made 33 of 65 field goals, going 17 of 39 from 3-point range. The 17 made 3s set a new tournament record.

“I think the theme of the night was keep coming at them in waves,” New Mexico State coach Chris Jans said. “We’ve been playing a lot of guys all year long. We talked a lot in the last 24 hours that we’re built for this. Our team is built for three games in three days.”

The Aggies, who outscored their opponents in the tournament by an average of 84.6-59.3, dismantled the Antelopes’ highly regarded defense, which ranked No. 1 in conference play in defending 3-pointer (.325) and second in scoring defense, allowing 66.5 points per game.

New Mexico State improved to 30-4 with its 19th straight victory, extending its program record for wins in a season. The Aggies have won seven of the last eight titles and nine overall, also beating Grand Canyon in the championship game last season.

New Mexico improved to 13-2 against the Antelopes (20-13), the Phoenix school in its sixth year at the Division I level, and second being eligible to play for a berth into the NCAA Tournament. Alessandro Lever led Grand Canyon with 17 points, and Damari Milstead added 11.

After opening with just one field goal in the first five minutes, and falling behind 10-2, New Mexico State responded with a flurry of 3-pointers, hitting four during a 24-11 run — including three from Queen.

The Antelopes made eight of their first 15 field-goal attempts, then closed the half missing 12 of 15. They finished the first half shooting 36.7 percent, including 6 for 18 from beyond the 3-point arc.

The Aggies carried the momentum into the second half, when their lead grew to 16, and eventually 76-48, as the Antelopes’ lack of depth had taken its toll. At one point, the Aggies were 8 of 13 from 3-point range, while Grand Canyon was 8 of 20 from the floor.

“They just kept running bodies at us, and they were fresher than us, and that’s what happened,” Majerle. “They have a deep team that keep coming at you in waves and they did a really good job of it.”

BIG PICTURE

Grand Canyon: During their time in Division I, the Antelopes are 50-1 when scoring at least 82 points and 58-6 when holding opponents to 63 points or less. The problem for them was they couldn’t defend the perimeter, and the Aggies had 63 points before the midway point of the second half, at the 12:11 mark. At the other end, Grand Canyon never found a rhythm that would allow it to play its type of offensive game.

New Mexico State: While Jans improved to 57-10 in his second season at the helm, and captured his second straight tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth, former Aggies coach Marvin Menzies, was fired from UNLV the day before after the Runnin’ Rebels went 17-14 this season. In his three seasons since leaving New Mexico State for UNLV, Menzies was 48-48 in charge of the Rebels.

READY RESERVE

The Aggies tend to use up to nine reserves in games, but until Jans emptied his bench near the end, he’d only utilized five in the championship. Despite the decrease, New Mexico State’s bench outscored Grand Canyon’s 50-9.

UP NEXT

Grand Canyon: With 20 wins, and a KenPom ranking of 94, the Antelopes should receive a lower-level postseason tournament invite.

New Mexico State: The Aggies await their seeding for the NCAA Tournament.