New Mexico State ousts UNR, faces Utah State for WAC title

RENO — Jahmar Young drove the lane for a basket with 3.8 seconds left, giving New Mexico State a 80-79 victory over UNR in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals Friday night.

Troy Gillenwater scored 21 points, Wendell McKines 16, Young 15 and Jonathan Gibson 10 for the Aggies (21-11). They led 62-54 with 13 minutes remaining and held on to advance to tonight’s championship against top-seeded Utah State (27-6), which beat Louisiana Tech 85-55 for its 17th straight victory.

Luke Babbitt scored a career-high 33 points to lead the Wolf Pack (20-12), including two free throws that put UNR ahead 79-78 with 45 seconds left.

Young missed a jumper but tied up Brandon Fields on the rebound for a jump ball, and the possession arrow gave the Aggies the ball with 31 seconds to go. Holding for the final shot, Young drove around the top of the key and made contact with Babbitt in the lane but got his jumper to fall.

UNR’s Armon Johnson, who had 13 points and 10 assists, missed a 30-foot desperation shot as time expired.

Babbitt, a 6-foot-9-inch sophomore named the WAC Player of the Year, shot 10-for-19 from the field and 10-for-10 on free throws. UNR made 16 of 18 from the foul line to help fuel its comeback.

New Mexico State led 62-54 after Gibson lobbed a pass to McKines for a dunk. The Aggies were still ahead 71-66 with less than 7 minutes to play when Babbitt fouled Young beyond the arc and he made all three free throws.

Babbitt hit two free throws and twice threaded passes to freshman center Marko Cukic for layups, the latter giving UNR its first lead since the first half, 75-74 with 3 minutes left.

The teams swapped the lead twice more before Young’s final heroics in a frantic game full of emotions and a technical foul on each team.

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