Aggies Win Season Opener

Big-time players make big-time plays and Fred Peete, playing in his first-ever game at New Mexico State University, delivered when it mattered most

The junior guard hit a key 3-pointer Tuesday night with the Aggies reeling late in the game, then hit another basket to lead his team past Pacific, 76-74, in the season opener at Pan American Center in front of 7,928 fans. Pacific had gone ahead 69-67 with 3:13 left on a Wolfgang Rafferty tip-in, when Peete calmly came off a Martin Iti pick on the wing, took a pass from point guard Elijah Ingram and drained the triple. With 1:45 left, Peete struck again, posting up Solomon Horsechief and scoring inside to put the Aggies up 72-69 with 1:45 left.

"The three-pointer came in the flow and I got a great pick from Martin Iti," said Peete. "On the post-up, we just found a good opening and did a nice job of running the offense. It was a nice win for us against a good team."

After both teams traded missed opportunities, it was Ingram who came up big. Ingram stepped in front of Steffon Johnson and picked off a Reggie Vezia pass and was fouled. He hit two free throws to put NMSU up, 74-69, with 27.8 seconds left. Pacific got two free throws from C.J. Morgan to pull within 74-71 with 23 seconds left, then got the ball back when Horsechief stole the ball from Ingram, but an alert Shaun Davis stripped Horsechief from behind and got the ball to Ted Knauber. Knauber then hit two free throws with 9.3 seconds to put NMSU up by five. Rafferty hit a 3-pointer with 1 second for the final margin.

"Pacific is just so patient, we tried to push the pace and they stuck to their game plan," said Hawkins, who played 39 of a possible 40 minutes and also had four steals. "We beat an NCAA Tournament-quality team and that will help us down the line."

Pacific, which shot 53.8 percent for the game, trailed 66-58 with 6:07 left after an Iti dunk before going on an 9-0 run to lead 67-66. C.J. Morgan led the run with seven points.

The Aggies, who shot 52.9 percent from the field and made 15 of 19 free throws, had four players in double figures. Peete led with 19 points, Justin Hawkins had 18, Davis chipped in with 14 and Ingram scored 10. Hawkins added a game-high nine rebounds, Peete was 8-of-12 from the field and Ingram had five assists.

New Mexico State forced 22 Pacific turnovers. Morgan came off the Tiger bench to lead all scorers with 23, while forward Anthony Brown had 14. "Elijah was a warrior," said Hawkins. "He's been battling injury and he gave us everything he had."

New Mexico State head coach Reggie Theus was happy with how his team responded in the opener against a Pacific program that has made three straight NCAA Tournaments.

"This was a huge game to start the year, we have a tough first four games and this is the first step toward a winning record in those first four," Theus said. "Fred Peete plays so hard, he has an all the way to the basket type of game. We're trying to get him to have more of an in between game, but he does so much for us. Justin played well inside and Elijah played hurt and gave us a great effort. I don't even know about the next game with him yet on Friday."

The Aggies lead was between five and nine points for much of the second half before Pacific's run. The Aggies and Tigers played a tight first half that saw NMSU go on a late 7-2 run to take a 38-37 lead after 20 minutes

. New Mexico State made 14 of 25 from the field, while Pacific made 15 of 29. There were six lead changes and two ties in the first half. New Mexico State, already minus post players Tyrone Nelson (hand injury), Hatilla Passos (left knee injury) and David Fisher (suspension), lost Iti for the first half with two fouls 57 seconds in.

But the Aggies got 10 points from Hawkins and eight points from Peete to lead the charge. Ingram, who has missed several practices with a right Achilles injury, played 13 minutes and had five points and three assists.

"I thought NMSU's run right at the end of the first half was big," said Pacific coach Bob Thomason. "We did some good things on the night. We shot the ball well."

The Aggies, who played a variety of pressure and halfcourt defenses, had success at times in forcing Pacific turnovers and turning them into points. The Aggies forced nine Pacific turnovers in the first half, but had just seven points.

The Tigers got solid play from guard Steffan Johnson, who hit all five of his shots, including a trio of treys for 13 points. Brown added 12 for Pacific, eight of which came in the final 6:32 of the half. Brown had 25 in Pacific's opener against Cal-State Bakersfield.

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