NMSU Men's Basketball Ends Season With 79-68 Loss To Clemson In NCAA Tournament

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

SAN DIEGO, CA - The historic season for New Mexico State men’s basketball came to an end on Friday night at Viejas Arena with the 12th-seeded Aggies falling to the fifth-seeded Tigers of Clemson University 79-68.

NM State finished the season tied for the program record in wins with a 28-6 overall record – identical to last season’s team that set the mark. It was also NM State’s second-consecutive season in the Big Dance despite having three head coaches in three years.

New Mexico State got off to a great start offensively with Zach Lofton banking in the 3-pointer from the elbow before Jemerrio Jones put one through the bottom of the basket on a nice pass from Sidy N’Dir.

As quick as the Aggies got going offensively, it took the same short amount of time for Clemson (24-9) to get going as it went on a 10-5 run that gave the Tigers the 19-15 lead with 10:07 on the clock after Elijah Thomas hit a mid-range jumper.

With the Aggies trailing 21-15, a scoring drought coupled with a hot-shooting hand by the Tigers pushed the NM state deficit to 32-22 before Eli Chuha’s and-1 brought the Aggies within 35-27 of the Tigers.

A 9-4 run then ensued by the Tigers in the final 3:45 minutes of action coupled with 5-of-14 shooting by NM State saw the Aggies trail 44-32 at the break. New Mexico State was really hurt on the fast-break in the first 20 minutes, getting outscored by Clemson 13-0 while also giving up a 22-14 edge in points in the paint.

The first 7:19 of action in the second-half saw scoring at a premium with NM State tallying 11 points to the Tigers’ 14. After a turnover out of the 11:41 media break, Keyon Jones got hot from downtown for NM State and hit back-to-back long-balls and brought the Aggies within 60-49 of the Tigers – which forced a Clemson timeout.

Despite the push by NM State via the three-ball from K. Jones, the Tigers continued to pound the paint against NM State before ending the game with a 42-28 advantage.

Lofton, who’s been NM State’s biggest offensive threat all year, started to get hot and poured in eight-straight points in a variety of ways. The ever-elusive J. Jones found his way to the basketball on the offensive glass and brought New Mexico State within 68-62 of the Clemson for his 21st and final double-double of the season before finishing with 13 points and 14 boards.

However, the Aggies got cold after J. Jones’ lay-in and went just 2-of-10 in the final 5:57 minutes of the game while Clemson sealed the game up with an 11-6 run.

Lofton finished the game with 29 points to lead all scorers in the loss on 9-of-18 shooting – surpassing Wendell McKines (653, 2011-12) for fifth in the single-season scoring record with 663 points in his lone season in the Crimson & White. The St. Paul, Minn., product also finished his Aggie career fourth in 3-pointers made in a single season with 87 – leaping Denmark Reid (83, 1996-97).

Meanwhile, J. Jones finished his career with 737 rebounds, tying Hamidu Rahman (737, 2008-12) for eighth all-time at New Mexico State despite just playing two years in the Crimson & White. His 450 rebounds this season keeps him in second in the single-season rebounding record books while his 13.2 rebounding average this season keeps him in a tie with George Knighton (13.2, 1960-61) for the third-best single-season rebounding average.

BY THE NUMBERS
New Mexico State was only able to convert eight Clemson turnovers for eight points while the Tigers converted 11 Aggie turnovers for 18 points…Clemson also had a 19-2 edge in fast-break points against the Aggies…NM State is 2-3 this season when trailing at the half after Friday night’s loss…the Aggies are now 7-23 all-time in NCAA Tournament play (not including the vacated wins from the 90s).

QOUTABLES

#23 Guard Zach Lofton
On what the season meant to him…

“It changed my life. I couldn't have made a better decision, you know what I mean? Coming here with Coach Jans. There's too much to say up here. I had a great season these guys. Coach Jans is a lifetime mentor. I don't show it the right way sometimes, but he means the world to me and just sad we went out like that for him. But I'm happy we had the season we had.”

#15 Guard Joe Garza
On what he remember most about being on this team and playing for New Mexico State and accomplishing a dream?

“Like you said, it's a dream come true. But I think what made this season so special was everything that we went through as a team, you know, we got a bunch of new guys, a whole new coaching staff, and I mean, it wasn't pretty in the beginning. We found a way to come together and we found a way to win games and we trusted Coach Jans and he trusted us; and, you know, I would do it all over again for my teammates, everything we went through. I wouldn't change a thing about it. I wouldn't change a thing about it. It was special for me for Coach Jans to allow me to continue my opportunity on the team and for these guys to accept me as one of their leaders. I'll remember that for the rest of my life and it was very special to me.”

Aggie Head Coach Chris Jans
On how you could turn this program into a team that come tournament time can make some noise?

“Well, we thought we were in position to do it this year. We had a pretty good seed. Everybody is good in the tournament. We felt good about the match-up. Just didn't go our way tonight. For me and our staff and the returning players, you know, we don't have any relationship with last year or three years ago or five years ago, so being a new coach it's hard to relate to what those certain teams went through, how good they were, how close they were to winning, I don't know. But we had a chance. We had a chance to do it tonight. I think having that taste, from my experience being around it, once you get that taste of what this feels like to play in this type of tournament, it motivates you to work harder. I anticipate the returning players and all the new guys we bring in to be a little more motivated maybe and certainly to have all spring and summer with our team rather than not having them last year hopefully will make a difference in our training and continuing to build our culture. That's the goal. We want to win championships. Won a couple this year, and we want to continue to have that attitude and have that mantra of more, more, more. Hopefully it will happen next year.”