(This is the seventh installment of Bill Harty’s game recaps as part of The Mid Majority ninth season taking readers to mid-major college basketball games around the country. Visit midmajority.com to find out more about this group-sourced effort to spread the word about the many fine basketball programs around the country that are having success on and off the court while generally not having access to the resources brought to athletic programs by big-time college football. Bill will be recapping most Aggie home games, and the occasional road foray, for both The Mid Majority and bleedCrimson.net.)
For the past several years, due to the generous sponsorship of Hotel Encanto in Las Cruces, several of New Mexico State women’s sports teams host an annual “Hotel Encanto” tournament. In the fall, several outstanding volleyball teams come to town; over the past five years fields have included Northwestern, Cincinnati, Illinois, LSU, Florida State, Texas, Utah, and Houston. In February, Big Ten softball squads looking for warm weather head to Las Cruces; Nebraska, Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State, and Ohio State have participated in the past five years. This year’s basketball tournament was held over the Thanksgiving weekend and brought three pretty evenly matched squads to compete with host New Mexico State for the championship. At 2:30, the first game of Friday afternoon matched the Drake Bulldogs of the Missouri Valley Conference against the Big West’s UC-Irvine Anteaters, with the Anteaters sneaking away with a 69-64 victory.
Forty minutes after the first game concluded, the New Mexico State Aggies of the Western Athletic Conference faced the George Mason Patriots of the Colonial Athletic Association. Both teams had played three prior games and each had won its home contests and lost all road games. George Mason lost at Oakland by four, and then defeated MEAC opponents Maryland Eastern Shore and Morgan State rather handily at home. New Mexico State opened with a thrilling overtime victory over Loyola Marymount, dropped a heartbreaking two-point game at UC-Santa Barbara, and then was trounced by the Lady Lobos in New Mexico’s Pit. George Mason had never previously played women’s basketball against any of the other tournament participants.
After a couple of initial minutes of missed shots and turnovers, sophomore Danesia Williamson opened the scoring with the first of her four first-half #superhoops. Mason countered with a basket by a player with one of the best names I’ve seen, on or off the court, Joyous Tharrington. Aggie coach Mark Trakh took a quick timeout when Mason got three attempts to pull within one at 5-4, followed by another Williamson triple. Junior guard Kyana Jacobs scored two of her three first half buckets to tie the score at eight. The Aggies responded with an 8-0 run (Elena Holguin’s put back layup, followed by triples from Abby Scott and Sasha Weber).
New Mexico State continued to build its lead through the remainder of the half, by working hard in their matchup zone defense and shooting over the Mason zone, making eight three-pointers in the half. At the half, the Aggies led 37-26, the biggest margin of the half, which ended with two threes by Williamson sandwiching one by Patriot guard Shavonne Duckett, and Williamson’s attempt as the clock expired ringing out of the hoop. Unsurprisingly, Williamson’s sixteen points led all scorers; guard Janaa Pickard had eight for Mason. No other player scored more than six.
For the first nine minutes of the second half, the Patriot defense only allowed two NMSU scores; a full court press rattled the Aggies for a while. Mason’s 14-5 run, which included four straight buckets leading up to the second media timeout, closed the gap to two at 42-40. A Sasha Weber driving layup, followed by making only one of four free throws, extended the margin to five. Mason kept up the defensive pressure and, with just over three minutes to play, briefly took a one point lead at 48-47. Williamson’s only bucket of the second half, followed by a Weber #superhoop put the Aggies up four. Rahneeka Saunders twice got the Patriots within two. The Aggies’ missing three of six free throws down the stretch, including the front end of two one-and-one opportunities, but Mason failed to take advantage, missing three shots. New Mexico State held on for a 55-52 victory.
Duckett led Patriot scorers with eleven; Pickard added nine and Tharrington eight. For the Aggies, Williamson’s eighteen points led the game, followed by Weber’s thirteen. The Aggies ten three-point baskets overcame Mason’s better shooting percentages, both from the line and the floor, and seven rebound advantage. Following the Aggie football game against BYU, Saturday’s consolation game will match George Mason against Drake, while New Mexico State will host UC-Irvine for the championship.