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2023-24 season end in Huntsville

NMSU Athletics

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (KVIA) -- In the blink of an eye, the Aggies' season came to a close. In an ice-cold arena, the Lady Flames were able to stay hot, shooting 8-for-13 from beyond the arc. CUSA Freshman of the Year Asia Boone poured in 20 points to lead all scorers, as she hit three of four shots from distance. NM State concluded its season at 13-18, with a 6-10 mark in CUSA play and a 1-1 record in the conference tournament. Liberty advanced to the CUSA Championship Game to take on Middle Tennessee. 
Individually, five different Aggies reached double figures – led by senior Molly Kaiser who tallied 16 points, including going 9-12 from the free-throw line. Meanwhile, Fanta Gassama bolstered her argument for a spot on the CUSA All-Tournament team as she posted 13 points to go along with seven rebounds in 33 minutes of action. Jaila Harding was the third member of the Aggies' starting lineup to reach double figures as she finished with 10 points. Meanwhile, Femme Sikuzani Masudi and Imani Warren turned in 12 and 11 points off the bench, respectively.
As a unit, NM State shot 38% from the field while Liberty knocked down 51% of its shot attempts. Liberty was also efficient from 3-point range and from the charity stripe – knocking down eight of its 13 3-point shots and 14 of its 16 free throws. The Aggies did show fight on the offensive glass as they hauled in 15 offensive boards to produce 15 second-chance points.
The second-seeded Flames quickly jumped out to a 6-0 lead after converting on their first three shot attempts; however, NM State absorbed the early blow as it responded with a 7-2 run to draw within one point following nearly four minutes of action.
Unfortunately, a handful of free throws would represent the only scoring for Aggies across the ensuing six minutes of competition with one coming from Fanta Gassama and two each from Femme Sikuzani Masudi and Molly Kaiser. Meanwhile, Liberty would push its lead to as many as 14 points during the first period before ultimately closing the quarter with a nine-point lead thanks to a 50% (9-18) shooting mark from the field, including going 60% (3-5) from beyond the arc. On the other hand, NM State finished the quarter just 3-of-17 from the floor to conclude the first quarter trailing 12-23.
The triples kept falling for the Flames as they knocked down their fourth triple of the game on their opening possession of the second period. After Liberty built its lead to 16 points, the Aggies dusted themselves off and showed some life – scoring 10 of the game's next 12 points to reduce the lead to single digits (30-22) with just under five minutes remaining in the half. This furious stretch included a long jumper and a turnaround shot inside the paint from Gassama who continued her stellar week.
This brief bright spot for the Aggies was quickly shadowed by a six-point burst from Liberty which was kickstarted by a 3-pointer from CUSA Freshman of the Year Asia Boone who led all scorers with 17 points in the first 20 minutes of play. The back-and-forth trend in the second quarter continued as the Aggies tallied the next four points prior to a 5-2 run from the Flames. Despite the Aggies being outscored by only two points in the second quarter, Liberty's hot-shooting led to NM State staring down a 13-point deficit heading into the locker room.
In the first 20 minutes of play, the Aggies connected on just one 3-pointer while Liberty drained six from long range. NM State did hold the edge on the glass – outrebounding the Flames 19-18 across the first two quarters. The Aggie rebounding effort included nine on the offensive end which was just two shy of the Aggies' season average (10.8).
NM State saw two more Liberty 3-pointers fall while the lead ballooned to 21 points before tallying their first points of the second half. The Aggie drought eventually ended at the 7:19 mark when a designed play from Head Coach Jody Adams helped Sikuzani Masudi tally her fifth and sixth points of the game.
Later, the Aggies again showed their ability to battle as they closed out the period on an 8-2 run to reduce the gap to 15 points heading into the closing quarter. The burst was highlighted by four points from Sikuzani Masudi who reached double figures for the game with an offensive putback at the 40-second mark on the clock.
For the first time in the game, the Aggies recorded the quarter's first points as Imani Warren finished at the rim just six seconds into the period. This set the tone for what would be the Aggies' best quarter of the semifinal matchup. Moments later, Jaila Harding made her presence felt as she recorded a block on the defensive end which triggered a fastbreak that resulted in a wide-open 3-pointer from Harding – cutting the lead to 10 points.
Eventually the Aggies trimmed the lead to single digits after Gassama knocked down a long-range two-point shot from the left wing with 2:31 remaining on the clock. Despite the late surge, the Aggies were unable to climb all the way out of the hole as Liberty went on to claim a 12-point victory to move on to the title game.
• Molly Kaiser turned in her 26th double-digit scoring effort of the season as she concluded her four-year career with the Aggies with a team-high 16 points. Serving as a key contributor since she stepped on campus, Kaiser finishes her career with 1,222 points to rank 18th on the Aggies' all-time scoring list.
• Kaiser's total was largely bolstered by her time spent at the free-throw line as she connected on a season-high nine free throws.
• Fanta Gassama finished off her season with 13 points to mark her third consecutive double-figure scoring total – a feat she accomplished only once in the previous 28 games.
• Femme Sikuzani Masudi turned in a career night – finishing just one rebound shy of her first career double-double. On the night, Sikuzani Masudi posted her fourth double-digit scoring line of the season while pulling down a career-high nine rebounds.
• Similarly, Imani Warren submitted the best performance of her freshman campaign as she finished with career-bests in points (11), steals (2) made field goals (5) and assists (1).
• NM State took really good care of the ball on Friday night – committing just eight turnovers which included just three steals to tie for the fewest steals by an Aggie opponent this season.
• The Aggies' 12-point first quarter marked its lowest scoring first quarter of play since Feb. 15. Despite the low-scoring period, NM State's 70 points was its fifth-best scoring output of the season.

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Bea Martinez

NMSU Athletics


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