LAS CRUCES, N.M. – A strong defensive battle between the Western Athletic Conference’s top two men’s basketball teams ended in a tough loss for CSU Bakersfield Saturday night. The Roadrunners led New Mexico State until the five-minute mark of the second half and the Aggies held on for a 63-58 win in the Pan American Center.
After the game, Head Coach Rod Barnes was disappointed with the final score, but was pleased with his team’s effort in the game: “I liked what I saw from our team tonight. This is part of the process and I’m proud of the steps that we made. They beat us on the boards and that really hurt us.”
The ‘Runners and Aggies played a tight first half with the emphasis on defensive effort. This came as no surprise to fans who watched the two teams’ matchups in the 2015-16 season, including a similar WAC Tournament finals last March.
After running neck and neck through most of the opening period, the ‘Runners surged to the end of the first half behind Jaylin Airington’s 12 points (4-8 FG). CSUB was outrebounded 25-17 in the period, but forced 10 NMSU turnovers to earn a 31-24 lead at the break. CSUB’s swarming defense held strong as the ‘Runners outshot NMSU 39.3% to 29.6% from the field.
In the second half, the Aggies used the energy of a raucous crowd to claw their way back into the game. New Mexico State pulled within two points with less than 12 minutes to go, but Airington got to the rack for an “and one” to put the ‘Runners back up 42-38.
With 7:58 left in the contest, the ‘Runners still led by three points when senior Dedrick Basile hit three-straight free throws to go up 50-44. NMSU took its first lead at 4:50 after a 7-0 run put the Aggies ahead 51-50. Sophomore Damiyne Durham came in and nailed a clutch three-pointer for his first points of the game to give the ‘Runners back the lead, 53-51.
The Aggies went on a 7-2 run to take a 58-53 lead when Durham hit another huge three-pointer. The sophomore’s trey brought Bakersfield back within two points with 32 seconds to go, but that would be the closest the ‘Runners would get in the final minutes. With little time left, CSUB was forced to foul and clutch free throws by NMSU’s Ian Baker iced the game.
Airington’s play in the game was brilliant as the redshirt senior penetrated the paint all night against NMSU. CSUB’s guard was able to convert on 7-of-14 shots for a game-high 19 points. Basile was 5-of-7 in the game for 14 points. The ‘Runners outshot NMSU 42% to 38%, but eight more made free throws by the Aggies proved to be the difference in Saturday’s contest.
NMSU was led by a pair of double-doubles from forwards Jemerrio Jones (12 points, 16 rebounds) and Johnathan Wilkins (12 points, 14 rebounds). The ‘Runners were outrebounded 46-30 in the game and the NMSU bench outscored CSUB’s bench 63-14. The Aggies improved to 17-2 (4-0 WAC) on the season and kept their 15-game win streak intact on Saturday.
The Roadrunners (11-7, 2-1 WAC) will return to Bakersfield for a single game, Saturday, Jan. 21, against Utah Valley at 7 p.m. The game will be televised via the American Sports Network and tickets are still available for fans who want to see the ‘Runners live. Visit GoRunners.com/tix to reserve your seats for that game and the rest of the season.