LAS VEGAS — It was a good night for former UNLV transfers at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals Friday night, with both New Mexico State's Donnie Tillman and Utah Valley's Trey Woodbury putting in top-end performances.
It was just a slightly better night for Tillman.
The Utah transfer-turned-Rebel-turned-Aggie poured in 23 points and four rebounds as third-seeded New Mexico State built up a big lead and cruised to a 78-62 win over No. 2 Utah Valley in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament late Friday night.
Jabari Rice added 13 points, four rebounds and two assists, and Johnny McCants added 9 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Aggies, who led by as much as 20 midway through the second half.
Trey Woodbury, the Clark High product who played at UNLV before transferring to Utah Valley, poured in a career-high 34 points for the Wolverines, the WAC's co-champion and No. 2 seed that never found the appropriate shooting feel all night. J.J. Overton supplied 11 points and three rebounds, and Fardaws Aimaq added 12 boards.
Evan Cole had 7 points and eight rebounds for the Wolverines (11-11), who committed 13 turnovers and turned a 40-35 edge on the glass into 18 second-chance points and 12 points in the paint.
Woodbury's 15 made free throws tied an all-time WAC Tournament record.
"No. 1, I'm proud of our players, of Trey Woodbury, of Fardaws, of Evan, of J.J.. I'm proud of these guys," UVU coach Mark Madsen said.
"Our players left every single ounce of blood, sweat and energy on the court. We have to admire the passion with which they played. You have to give New Mexico State credit; they came out and beat us, fair and square. They got key offensive boards, made threes when they had to, and shot a pretty good percentage. They played hard."
The Wolverines missed their first 10 shots from the field, committed four turnovers, and trailed the Aggies 15-2 before Woodbury finally scored from the field with 12:33 left in the first half.
By then, former Utah forward Tillman had 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, including a pair of 3s and two rebounds, to lead New Mexico State (12-7).
UVU shot just 7-of-29 from the field in the first half, with Woodbury making close to half the team's field goals. WAC player of the year Aimaq was held scoreless from the field before the break, though the nation's leading rebounder did have eight boards.
"We got off to a slow start, and that's what hurt us," Woodbury said. "We kept chipping away at it, but couldn't get back to it.
"Really, it was just the initial start that hurt us the most."
A late run pulled the Wolverines within four on a bucket by Jordan Brinson with 1:21 left to go until halftime. For as efficiently and easily as the Aggies were scoring early, they hit a drought late going three minutes without a field goal before Kalen Williams ended the half with two in the final 48 seconds left en route to a 32-23 halftime lead.
Woodbury had 11 points and two rebounds in the first half; no other Utah Valley player made more than one made field goal. New Mexico State then opened the second half on a 9-2 spurt, capped by Rice's jumper with 16:18 left to go up 41-25.
"Trey Wood came out like a man possessed, and would not be denied," Madsen said. "He fought and scrapped, and he made his teammates better.
"The outcome is not the one we wanted, but we'll continue to work."
UVU just built itself too big of a hole. The Wolverines clawed back as close as 62-53 on Woodbury — who has hit plenty of clutch shots for the Wolverines in 2020-21 — drained a three then hit a close-range jumper with 3:58 remaining during a 12-3 run as New Mexico State went cold from the field for over three minutes late.
But Tillman hit a 3-pointer off a steal out of a timeout, and the Aggies held off the late advance to eliminate the regular season co-champion Wolverines from the tournament.
"It's definitely been a fun ride," Woodbury said. "Back in the summer, we didn't even know if we'd have a season. Everybody played their hearts out this season.
"From where we were picked to where we ended up, we battled. Obviously, it didn't end where we wanted. But you can't take anything away."