Aggies Fall in Conference Opener

Freshman Josh Jenkins scored a career-high 21 points, but the Aggies missed multiple layups in the second half Monday night and NMSU fell to conference rival North Texas, 79-69 in the Pan American Center.

The New Mexico State Aggies just couldn't find the right formula Saturday night in the Sun Belt opener.

New Mexico State missed several layups, couldn't overcome 53.6 percent shooting by North Texas in the second half and fell 79-69 at the Pan American Center.

The Aggies drop to 4-9 and 0-1 in league play, while North Texas is 8-4 on the season and 1-0 in league play.

"We had chances," NMSU interim head coach Tony Stubblefield said. "We ran our offense and got some good looks at the basket. We have to take advantage of those opportunities."

The Aggies chased North Texas all night long and led only 3-0 and 5-3 on the night. North Texas was up 35-31 at the break and kept a tedious lead in the second half.

New Mexico State tied or pulled within three points several times in the second half, but never caught the Mean Green, which won in Las Cruces for the first time since 1974.

"We couldn't sustain the effort for 40 minutes," Aggie guard Mike Mitchell said. "We have to keep working to try and be consistent."

The Aggies trailed just 69-66 with 3:02 left after a Trevor Lawrence follow and got the ball back 19 seconds later after Duane John took a charge. But the Aggies made two critical turnovers in the next minutes and never recovered. Meanwhile, North Texas hit eight free throws in the final 1:40 to pull out the win. Senior guard Leonard Hopkins keyed the late charge with four points and a key steal.

"I just tried to step up my play and be a leader," Hopkins said. "This was a big win for us. Our chemistry and effort is great. This is the best chemistry we've had as a team in a long time."

Hopkins and fellow guard Calvin Watson paced the Mean Green with 24 and 23 points respectively. Hopkins had 13 points in the second half, while Watson had 23. Watson was 9 for 9 from the free throw line, while North Texas hit 21 of 26 as a team.

The Aggies shot just 35.9 percent from the field, despite hitting 9 of 19 from the 3-point line. New Mexico State's starting forwards, Jeff Jones and Trevor Lawrence, made just 3 of 17 combined from the field.

"We have to convert when we get chances," Stubblefield said. "North Texas played some good defense in the paint, but good teams take advantage of some opportunities."

The Aggies were led by freshman guard Josh Jenkins and junior guard Mike Mitchell. Jenkins scored 21 points, 16 of which came in the second half, while Mitchell had 14. Junior wing Duane John added 13. Jenkins helped keep the Aggies in the game in the second half with clutch shooting. He hit four 3-pointers in the second half and made all four of his free throws.

"We just have to keep finding ways to get better and find consistency, and if we do, we'll be more successful," Jenkins said.

The Mean Green got 11 points each from Watson and Hopkins to lead by four at the break. The Aggies were led by Mitchell's 10 and John's nine at the break.

"We are giving a great effort and it's nice to come on the road against a difficult opponent and get the win," North Texas coach Johnny Jones said. "We made some big shots in the second half and came up big on defense at times. Our bench also gave us a great effort."

The Aggies are back in action Monday against Tulsa at 7:05 p.m.

Felix Chavez can be reached at fchavez@lcsun-news.com


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