LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KVIA) -- Opening the 2023 Cancun Challenge with an on-campus matchup, NM State (3-2, 0-0 CUSA) welcomed the Northern Colorado Bears (2-2, 0-0 Big Sky) on Saturday night. Despite trailing by 16 points early in the second half, Christian Cook and Femi Odukale combined for 34 points, ten rebounds and five steals, powering the Aggies to a 76-71 home victory.
After recording home wins over Sul Ross State and Western New Mexico, the Aggies win over the Bears gave the Aggies their first win against a Division I opponent.
Foreshadowing his night like a Hollywood blockbuster, Christian Cook knocked down the Aggies' first shot attempt of the night, a three from the right wing. Drawing a foul on the play, Cook converted the four-point opportunity to put NM State ahead 4-0 after the first possession. Not to be outdone, Northern Colorado answered back with a three-pointer of their own, draining a trio of triples within 70 seconds, taking a 9-4 lead. This became a theme of the first half for the Bears, finishing with six made triples in the opening 20 minutes.
Cleared to play by the NCAA on Friday, Femi Odukale made his Aggie debut six minutes into the contest. Making an instant impact, the senior from Brooklyn came in and made a pair of baskets before assisting on a Christian Cook triple to regain the lead for NM State (17-16).
Evened up at 18 with 10 minutes remaining in the half, Northern Colorado used a 14-5 run to lead NM State 32-23 at the two-minute mark. A five point-outburst from Christian Cook was shortly outdone by six points over the final minute, including a free throw by Theo Hughes with one-tenth of a second left on the clock.
Jaylin Jackson-Posey opened the second half in scoring for NM State, putting in two of his 14 points on the night. A calm in the action presided over the next four minutes, with just one made basket between the teams and eight free throws. A pair of baskets by Robert Carpenter spearheaded a ten-point Aggie run, including a pair of three-pointers by Jaylin Jackson-Posey and Jordan Rawls to cut the Bears' lead to two points (50-48).
Quelling the Aggies' hot streak with a made triple, NM State went right back to work. Using four free throws by Odukale and back-to-back scores by Christian Cook, the Crimson & White took their first lead since the 12:47 mark in the first half.
Down the stretch, Head Coach Jason Hooten trusted Cook and Odukale to protect the NM State lead, scoring 14 of the teams' final 20 points. While the Bears kept the game close, shrinking the Aggie deficit to just two points with 1:11 remaining, NM State would not relinquish the lead.
Numbers of Note
- Christian Cook finished the night with 26 points, including a career-high five three point pointers made. This is the highest single-game point total for an Aggie this season, surpassing the 24 points Jaden Harris recorded in last Tuesday's win over Western New Mexico.
- Femi Odukale made his long-awaited NM State debut on Saturday, playing 23 minutes off the bench and recording 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
- Showing his prowess around the rim, Odukale attempted 15 free throws on the night, making nine to lead the game in both categories. His 15 attempts became the most by an Aggie since Ivan Aurrecoechea took 15 shots from the charity stripe on Dec, 9th 2018 against New Mexico.
- Forcing Northern Colorado into 18 turnovers, the Aggies tallied 15 steals on Saturday, the first time NM State recorded 15 or more steals since a Dec. 29, 2019 home contest with Northern New Mexico.