The New Mexico State Aggies battled back from a 13-point deficit only to have their hearts ripped out as Saint Mary’s Joe Rahon hit his only two free throws with 2.0 seconds left to give the Gaels a 58-56 win in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament at SMC’s McKeon Pavilion.
The Aggies (23-11) end their season, while Saint Mary’s (28-5) advanced to the second round of the NIT against the winner of the Belmont at Georgia game on Wednesday.
The Aggies trailed by 10 at 56-46 with 4:21 to play when NM State made its final run. Starting with a Pascal Siakam jumper with 4:00 to play, the Aggies shut down the Gaels with a 10-0 run with three Ian Baker layups and capped with Tanveer Bhullar’s layup off the glass with 2.1 seconds left to tie the game.
But a blocking foul against the Aggies after the inbounds, put Rahon on the line with 2.0 remaining. Rahon drained both shots. A half court heave by Baker just missed and Saint Mary’s came away with the win.
“The guys showed a lot of fight,” said NM State head coach Marvin Menzies. “It’s just one of those games. The kids showed a great effort on national television and made the team and our athletic program proud.”
NM State struggled in the first half before switching defenses midway through the second half and using that defense to generate the offense.
The Aggies shot 35.9 percent from the floor for the game, while Saint Mary’s shot 51.1 percent. But NM State forced Saint Mary’s in to 11 turnovers while the Aggies suffered just seven. The Aggies also outrebounded the Gaels 36-29.
Siakam led the Aggies with 19 points and 14 rebounds to tie Egidijus Mockevicius of Evansville with an NCAA-leading 27 double-doubles. Siakam also equaled his career-high with four steals in the game to go with one block.
Baker finished with 13 points for the game to go with seven assists.
Saint Mary’s was paced Rahon who collected 14 points, with Dane Pineau adding 13 points. The duo each grabbed seven rebounds. Emmett Naar posted 12 points with six assists.
The Aggies closed the season as the back-to-back regular season Western Athletic Conference Champions and played in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT for the fifth consecutive season.
Siakam posted the second-highest scoring total for a season in NM State history as he posted 690 points, one better than Jahmar Young’s 689 in 2009-10. Siakam was also third all-time in rebounds in a season with 396 and third in single season blocked shots with 76.