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Gassama’s perfect game leads postseason win

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (KVIA) -- The Aggies are advancing. Last Saturday, NM State (13-17, 6-10 CUSA) took down FIU (20-11, 11-5 CUSA) 65-56 in Miami. Meeting again on Thursday afternoon in the CUSA Tournament Quarterfinals, the Aggies held control for the majority of the contest. The Crimson & White maintained a lead for over 36 minutes in a tightly-contested 63-58 victory. Molly Kaiser finished with a team-high 22 points, while Fanta Gassama recorded a standout game, posting a career-high 20 points and 17 rebounds and finishing 8-for-8 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. 

First Quarter

Ene Adams started the game with two fouls after playing less than a minute. With a quick Tylie Jones substitution, NM State got out to a hot start; as has been key this season. At the media break, the Crimson & White led 8-4, sinking four of their first five shots. FIU did not hit a shot from the field in the first quarter. The last time an opponent converted on zero field goals in a quarter was Utah Valley on March 11, 2016 (also the first quarter). 

The Lady Panthers produced the first points of the game on free throws – a common theme throughout the quarter, with a combined 17 free throw attempts through the first ten minutes of action. A scoreless drought allowed FIU back into the contest, making it an 11-8 game with 2:19 left to go, before three free throws between First Team All-CUSA selection Molly Kaiser and Femme Sikuzani Masudi made it 14-8 at the first quarter buzzer.

Second Quarter

Sianny Sanchez-Oliver opened frame number two with a fastbreak layup, giving her four quick points on the night. Coming into the contest, the junior from Powder Springs, Ga., averaged 1.4 points per game. Following a brief Lady Panther run, Molly Kaiser sank one of her three field goals in the quarter, putting the Crimson & White on top 18-12 with 7:05 remaining. Trailing by as many as eight points in the quarter, FIU battled back to knot the game at 18 before a 6-2 Aggie burst put NM State up 24-20 with 78 ticks until halftime. The Panthers found more offensive stride in the second frame, before a late Molly Kaiser jumper gave the senior 10 points and put her side ahead 26-24 entering the break. FIU shot just 24% from the field in the first half, including just one make on 10 3-pointers. Meanwhile, NM State shot 52% from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, but a 4-for-9 (44%) mark from the charity stripe and 12 turnovers kept FIU in the game. At the break, NM State held an 18-15 edge in the rebound battle and a 12-4 edge in paint points. 

Third Quarter

NM State quickly found itself trailing for the first time since a 2-0 deficit 19 seconds into the contest. Gassama responded with back-to-back buckets, tying her career high with 12 points and sending it to the media timeout with a 33-30 NM State edge. Out of the break, the Aggies' hot scoring continued, extending the lead to seven (37-30) before FIU broke their scoring drought with a pair of free throws. Molly Kaiser produced her first 3-pointer of the contest to give the Crimson & White a 10-point edge in what was ultimately their largest lead of the afternoon (42-32), before adding a pair of free throws. The Watagua, Texas native would finish the frame with 10 points, giving her 20 in the contest.

A potential momentum-shifting sequence occurred when Fanta Gassama drew a shooting foul followed by a technical foul on Lady Panthers coach Jesyka Burks-Wiley. Gassama would sink both free throws to give her a new career high in points (14), before Kaiser would split her pair of technical free throws. A quartet of charity stripe points for FIU sent the game into the final quarter with NM State ahead 47-40. 

Fourth Quarter

A tense and action-packed fourth quarter kicked off with five quick FIU points to make it a one-possession game. Beyond this point, buckets came at a premium, with just six made field goals between the two teams over the last eight and a half minutes. Fanta Gassama canned her seventh shot of the night, and Sylena Peterson buried the second made triple for the Aggies to make it a 52-45 ballgame with 4:53 left to go. Foul trouble plagued the Aggies, and made for a considerable delay in the game with 1:05 left to go. 

Sianny Sanchez-Oliver drew a foul on the Lady Panthers, but was called for a foul after the whistle, giving her five and sending her out of the game. Jaila Harding came in and shot the free throws for Sanchez-Oliver, splitting the pair before FIU made their trip down the line. After the Crimson & White led 57-53 with 1:05 remaining, the Lady Panthers were able to tie the game 57-57 with 32 seconds to go. After going 4-for-9 from the charity stripe in the first half, NM State closed the game with six consecutive made free throws, sealing a 63-58 victory.

Numbers of Note

  • Fanta Gassama set a new career high in points and rebounds, posting 20 points while pulling down a game-high 17 rebounds. No other player from either team had more than seven. 17 rebounds represent the most by an Aggie since Bigue Sarr grabbed as many against Chicago State on Jan. 25, 2022. 
  • This is the second straight game with a double-double for the junior from Matoro, Spain – her first coming last Saturday in a road win over the same Lady Panthers.
  • Gassama's 20 points also came without a miss – going 8-8 from the field while sinking all four of her free throws. Gassama now holds the most made baskets without a miss by an Aggie (min. five attempts) since Adriana Henderson went 6-for-6 against Grand Canyon on Feb. 27, 2020. 
  • Gassama's career day also made her the second player in CUSA Tournament history to go perfect from the field on a minimum of eight attempts, and the first to do so since 2003.
  • Coming into the contest leading the conference in rebounds per game (39.5), the Aggies held the Lady Panthers to just 30 boards, while holding a +12 advantage, including a 14-8 edge in offensive rebounds. 
  • Once again, Molly Kaiser delivered when she was needed most. In Thursday's game, the Watauga, Texas, native posted 22 points to mark her seventh 20-plus point game of the season and second consecutive after scoring 20 in the regular season finale against these same Panthers. The senior also shot a blistering 63.6% from the field to record her second-best shooting percentage of the 2024 season.
  • Sianny Sanchez-Oliver came into the contest averaging 1.4 points per game, before setting a career-high with six points in 36 minutes played.
  • The Aggies finished +12 in rebounding margin over the Lady Panthers (42-30), the fifth time this season NM State has outrebounded their opponents by such a margin. Over the past five days, the Aggies are now 2-0 against FIU with a +29 rebounding margin. 
  • FIU failed to convert on a single field goal attempt during the first quarter of action – combining to shoot 0-10 from the field across the first 10 minutes. The last time an Aggie opponent failed to make a field goal for an entire quarter was March 11, 2016, when the Aggies limited Utah Valley to 0-7 from the field and just two points in the first quarter of the 2016 WAC Tournament Quarterfinals.
  • Thursday's matchup was truly a clash of opposing styles as NM State entered the tournament ranked second in the conference scoring defense – allowing 60.9 points per game while FIU entered the contest ranked second in the league in scoring offense – averaging 69.4 points per game. Ultimately, the Aggies' defensive pressure prevailed as NM State held the Panthers to just 58 points to mark the third time this season that the Aggies limited FIU to fewer than 60 points. Additionally, FIU shot just 29.8% from the field to mark their fifth-worst percentage of the season.

Head Coach Jody Adams, on the win: "As a coach today, just watching them brought me pure joy. As a teacher and mentor, I want the players to understand what wins. A winning heart is for each other, not against each other. We decided that we're going to do this together and buy in to the culture. We let our coaches lead, our upperclassmen lead and came together as one."

Senior guard Molly Kaiser, on the key to holding on in the fourth quarter: "It all came down to our mindset and winning the game. We were not playing to hold a lead, but to win it. We wanted to get stops and win the ball game."

Junior forward Fanta Gassama, on her performance: "This is just me. I think this is my role. I fight for the ball, I make good passes, but I just do what Coach [Adams] asks me to do. I love rebounding. My goal is to rebound and to post up."

Up Next

With the win, NM State advances to the CUSA Semifinals, taking on the No. 2 seed Liberty Lady Flames on Friday, Mar. 15, at 7:00 PM MT. In two games against Liberty this season, NM State fell 69-53 in Lynchburg, and 60-56 in Las Cruces on Feb. 29. The semifinal matchup will be streamed live on ESPN+ and available to follow via StatBroadcast. 

For complete coverage of NM State Women's Basketball, follow us on Twitter (@NMStateWBB), Instagram (@NMStateWBB) and like us on Facebook (NM State Women's Basketball). You can also follow along with Aggie Women's Basketball via

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Bea Martinez

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