LAS VEGAS (March 9)-The New Mexico State men's basketball team is playing in its second WAC Tournament Championship game in three years following a 92-81 win over Hawai'i in the tournament semifinals. NM State is 2-1 in WAC title games.
The Aggies (25-9) had five players in double-figures with redshirt senior forward Wendell McKines leading the way with a game-high 22 points and a season-high six assists. Senior guard Hernst Laroche contributed 18 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line. Sophomore center Tshilidzi Nephawe added a career-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Junior forward Tyrone Watson had 13 points, while freshman guard Daniel Mullings posted his second career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Aggies will play the winner of the Nevada/Louisiana Tech game, Saturday, March 10 at 10 p.m. on ESPN2. The championship game is also available on KGRT 204 FM with the 'Voice of the Aggies' Jack Nixon.
The Aggies scored the first 17 points of the game in the first 4:29 of the contest. NM State extended the lead to 20, 22-2, on a three-point play from Nephawe at 14:30.
The Aggies maintained a double-digit advantage until Hawai'i utilized a 12-0 run late in the first half to cut NM State's lead to six, 38-32, at the 3:28 mark of the first half.
The Crimson and White ended the first half with a 3-pointer from Laroche for a 47-38 halftime lead. McKines had a game-high 12 points and five assists. Laroche and Watson added eight points each, while junior forward Bandja Sy had seven points off the bench.
The Aggies shot 50 percent from the field (19-of-38) and 41.7 percent from the 3-point line (5-of-12). With his first steal of the game, Laroche became the all-time steals leader in school history. He now has 212 steals and surpassed William Benjamin.
In the second half, the Rainbow Warriors chipped away at the Aggies' lead early and cut it to one, 61-60, with 10:43 to play. NM State responded when Laroche converted a four-point play on the next possession to extend the lead to five points, 65-60.
The Aggies hit the free throws down the stretch and sank 5-of-6 shots in the final two minutes of action. NM State was 76.5 percent from the stripe in the second half.