Utah State Comes Back, Advances to WAC Finals
With the win, Utah State advances to the championship game of the WAC Tournament for the third time in its four years in the league, and for the eighth time in its last 10 years overall.
Trailing 70-69 with eight seconds to play, sophomore guard Pooh Williams inbounded the ball to sophomore forward Tai Wesley who drove to the basket and passed it to a wind open Newbold whose shot hit the rim and the backboard before dropping in with just over three seconds remaining. NMSU's Jahmar Young's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer didn't even hit the rim to preserve the comeback win for USU.
Utah State improves to 29-4 on the year with the win and set a new school record for victories in a season as it surpassed the 2000 and 2001 teams that both finished with 28-6 records. New Mexico State falls to 17-15 with the loss.
Senior forward and WAC Player of the Year Gary Wilkinson scored a game-high 19 points for Utah State, while Wesley had 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Williams also scored in double-figures for USU as he had all 13 of his points after the first 20 minutes.
Jonathan Gibson scored 16 points to lead New Mexico State, but had just two in the second-half as he was 5-of-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes and 1-of-6 in the second 20 minutes. Jahmar Young added 15 points and Troy Gillenwater scored 12.
Utah State began the game much like it did in the quarterfinals as it made its first seven shots and scored on its first eight possessions to build a quick 17-7 advantage. USU maintained its advantage and led 23-14 following a jumper from sophomore forward Matt Formisano with 10:25 play. That, however, is when NSMU caught fire from three-point range and made eight straight three-pointers and out-scored USU 33-11 over the final 9:16 of the first-half to take a 47-34 lead into the break.
In the first-half, New Mexico State shot a blistering 60.7 percent from the field (17-28) and 72.7 percent from the three-point range (8-11). USU shot 44.8 percent (13-29), including 33.3 percent from behind the arc (3-9) as Wesley had nine points at the break and Wilkinson eight.
Utah State charged out of the locker room in the second-half as it used a 13-3 run to cut the lead to three at 50-47 with 15:17 to play. NMSU, however, kept USU at bay for much of the half as its lead fluctuated back and forth from eight to two points over the next 10 minutes.
Utah State closed to within two points at 61-59 on a layup from Formisano, but New Mexico State answered with a 7-1 run that Young capped with a three-pointer to give the fifth-seed a 68-60 lead with 5:17 to play. USU then clamped down on defensive and allowed just one basket during the final 5:17 as it finished the game on an 11-2 run to notch the win. During that stretch, NMSU was 1-of-6 from the field, including 0-of-1 from the free throw line as Hernst Laroche missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 32 seconds to play. Following the missed free throw, NMSU's Gibson grabbed the offensive rebound, but Newbold tied him up and the possession arrow gave the ball to USU for the final shot.
Utah State finished the game by shooting 46.3 percent from the field (25-54), 31.3 percent from three-point range (5-16), and 84.2 percent from the free throw line (16-19). New Mexico State shot just 33.3 percent from the field in the second-half (10-30), including just 1-of-8 (.125) from behind the arc and finished the game by shooting 46.6 percent overall (27-58) and 47.4 percent from three (9-19). USU also out-rebounded NMSU, 35-29.
Utah State will now face second-seed and host Nevada (21-11) in the championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. (MT) in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN2. The Wolf Pack advanced to the championship game by defeating sixth-seeded Louisiana Tech, 77-68, in the other semifinal game.
Utah State is 3-1 all-time against the Wolf Pack in postseason play, which includes an 0-1 record in the championship game as Nevada defeated USU, 70-63 in overtime, in the title game of the 2006 Tournament in Reno.