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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Zach Lofton scored 22 points for New Mexico State and two potential tying shots hit rim and bounced away in the closing five seconds for New Mexico as the Aggies came away with a 65-62 win Saturday night.
"It wasn't a pretty game," New Mexico State coach Chris Jans said. "It was a toughness win. And hopefully next time we're in that situation, we'll be talking about this game."
A.J. Harris added 12 points for New Mexico State (7-2).
Antino Jackson had 14 points and Troy Simons 13 for the Lobos (3-7). But Simons' putback with five seconds rolled off the rim. And after Lofton made one of two free throws, Anthony Mathis had a good luck at a 3-pointer, but it drew iron as the buzzer sounded.
The game was tight throughout, with the Aggies holding their biggest lead at 23-16 midway through the first half but New Mexico responded with eight points over a 44-second span to regain the lead.
The Lobos held their largest lead at 54-45 midway through the second half following Makuach Maluach's steal and fast-break dunk, but they only made one more basket the rest of the game and moments later, New Mexico State went on a 13-2 surge, with Lofton scoring four. New Mexico went 0 for 8 from the field over the final 6½ minutes.
The Aggies made a slight defensive adjustment in the latter stages of the second half that contributed to the Lobos' drought.
"In the second half, especially down the stretch, the only thing we did was we started switching on a lot of their ball screens and hand-offs instead of letting them go downhill on us," Jans said. "We just decided to switch them. We were playing some pretty small lineups so we were in a situation to do that better without our true fives on the floor."
The veteran Aggies also had a better presence about themselves in waning moments, New Mexico coach Paul Weir said.
"I thought they made some really big shots," he said of the Aggies. "You could just kind of sense their experience and you could just sense, I think you could sense, I guess our inexperience. .That team knows how to win those games and had the experience to do it. And we're still trying to figure that out."
The Aggies were seeking their first sweep in the annual home-and-home series since 2002-03. Both teams came into the game with head coaches in their first season with their squads, but the Lobos' Paul Weir coached New Mexico State last season
New Mexico State whiffed on all eight of its second-half 3-pointers and was 4-of-20 from 3-point range overall.
And in the teams' first meeting Nov. 17, the Aggies in winning 75-56, had a 50-25 rebounding margin, including 25-9 on the offensive glass. But New Mexico kept it much closer this time with a 44-36 rebounding deficit, including 15-9 offensively.
But Weir said that was still too much.
"When you have a 3-point game and you have both teams shoot about 40 percent, it's the little things that add up and we were minus-2 on turnovers and minus-6 on the offensive glass and those eight possession end up being the difference in a game like this when the percentages are about equal everywhere else."
The Lobos are at home next Saturday to play Arizona, which won their meeting last season 77-46 in Tucson. After a 16-year hiatus, last season the teams resumed a long-standing rivalry, in which the Wildcats own an 84-42 advantage.
New Mexico State is at home Tuesday to play Division II Eastern New Mexico. It's the Aggies final home game until Jan. 18.
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