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New Mexico State fends off Grand Canyon; advances to WAC Tournament Final

LAS VEGAS, Nevada - Though it wasn't without drama, New Mexico State is back on the doorstep of an NCAA Tournament berth. But then again, it never isn't in March.

In a high-quality, emotional semifinal matchup, the Aggies made late free throws to hold off Grand Canyon 75-70 in the WAC Tournament on Friday night.

New Mexico State now advances to face Abilene Christian, who beat Seattle in the other semifinal game, on Saturday night for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Aggies took the lead with 13-10 on a Teddy Allen three-pointer with 15:10 remaining in the first half and never gave it up the rest of the way.

After leading by nine at halftime, New Mexico State extended their lead to 14 on a Mario McKinney Jr. lay-in with just over nine minutes to go. But Grand Canyon closed the gap to four under a minute to play.

Grand Canyon however couldn't find the cylinder to tie it up, as the Lopes went 0-5 from three-point land in the final two minutes.

Jabari Rice and Teddy Allen each made two clutch free throws under 20 seconds to play to keep it a two-possession game before closing out the victory.

Rice finished with 21 on 6-8 shooting, while Allenb had a game-high 25. The WAC Player of the Year went 12-12 from the free throw line.

New Mexico State's victory gave them a three-game sweep over the Lopes on the season as the Aggies won 71-61 in Las Cruces and 8-266 in Phoenix.

Now, New Mexico State faces conference 6-seed Abilene Christian who has won three games in three days.

In their lone meeting this season, New Mexico State topped Abilene Christian 77-63, with Allen exploding for 41 points.

The Wildcats are looking for their third consecutive trip the NCAA Tournament. Ironically, the last two came with current UTEP Head Coach Joe Golding at the helm.

Golding was seen on the Abilene Christian-Seattle broadcast on Friday night cheering on the Wildcats from behind the bench.

Tip for the WAC Tournament Championship game is set for 8pm MT on ESPNU.

Nate Ryan

Nate Ryan is an ABC-7 sports anchor/reporter.

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