When Kurt Wegschieder made a layup with 9:38 to play, the New Mexico Lobos had built a 57-46 lead. From then on Utah State chipped away slowly, ultimately ending with a 29-13 run to oust the Lobos from the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Thursday night by a final of 75-70.
Sam Merrill led the way for the Aggies with 29 points. He picked up his fourth foul early in the second half that allowed New Mexico to pull ahead. He came back after the Lobos built their aforementioned 11-point lead and scored 11 of his 29 points down the stretch to power the Aggies to the victory. Diogo Brito added 15 points, while Justin Bean scored 10 points.
JaQuan Lyle had 20 points in the losing effort for UNM, but only had two points in a cold shooting second half. Corey Manigault had 18 points and Vance Jackson finished with 11.
Early on it looked as though the Lobos might get run out of the building, as Utah State built an early 20-7 lead before Lyle took over and scored 18 in the first stanza. The game was tied at 33-33 at intermission. The Lobos looked to overwhelm Utah State early in the second half when Merrill was on the bench. However, once Merrill returned, Utah State could not be stopped.
The win means Utah State advances to the MWC Tournament Semifinals against the winner of Wyoming and Nevada still to come. It also means that Utah State has solidified their bubble status for Selection Sunday.
For New Mexico, what was a promising season, one that started 15-3, ends on a sour note as the Lobos lost for the 11th time over the last 16 contests. They end their season 19-14, an improvement over last season, but still nowhere near where this team thought they would’ve finished. For Lobo basketball fans, it’ll be a long summer.