MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The New Mexico State Aggies are a veteran-led squad so they know how to face adversity. Johnny McCants and Jabari Rice are two of the most dependable players in college basketball. Add in transfer Teddy Allen who is a bucket waiting to happen, and no lead is ever enough against the Aggies.
On Thursday morning, in the first game of the Myrtle Beach Classic, New Mexico State faced some adversity. Johnny McCants had to sit out nearly eight minutes of the first half due to foul trouble. The Aggies were a turnover machine and the offense was struggling.
However, despite falling behind by 10 at one point late in the first half, the Aggies never wavered. Teddy Allen and Jabari Rice combined for 26 second-half points to help the Aggies knock off Davidson, 76-64. New Mexico State advances to face former WAC rival Utah State on Friday in a semifinal matchup.
The start of the Myrtle Beach Classic was exactly what the New Mexico State Aggies wanted. New Mexico State ran out to a 14-2 lead.
But, McCants was whistled for his second foul with 8:04 to play in the first half and the wheels came off. Davidson used a 17-1 run over the next six minutes to take a 33-23 lead. Without McCants on the floor, the Aggies went nearly four minutes without a point. A pair of Teddy Allen free throws and a 3-pointer by Mike Peake broke the scoring drought.
“It’s pretty evident what kind of impact Johnny McCants has for us,” New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans said. “They (Davidson) just came back and then all of a sudden we were very deflated. Tough feeling for us as a staff. We couldn’t get them going again. And we had a hard time scoring. We were struggling offensively.”
As part of that offensive struggle, the Aggies committed nine first-half turnovers. And the Aggies shot just 39 percent from the field. The Aggies were just 4-12 from deep in the first frame, as well.
Simply put: those were big reasons New Mexico State went into the halftime locker room down 33-28.
“Johnny’s a security blanket for me. He knows what he’s doing out there,” Jans said. “He’s a smart player in the right spot and he was unbelievable in the locker room at halftime and at the end of the game, as well.”
What a difference a halftime break makes. The Aggies regrouped, especially Teddy Allen and Jabari Rice. The guard duo for the Aggies shot a combined 7-13 from the field in the second half and hit five 3-pointers. At one point midway through the second half, Allen and Rice scored 21 of New Mexico State’s 23 points.
And down the stretch, Donnie Tillman and Johnny McCants hit big shots as New Mexico State closed the game on a 10-0 run.
“That’s one of the first things I addressed in the locker room,” Jans said of the defensive effort down the stretch. “If we could bottle that defensive effort and be assignment correct in the last five, six minutes of the game, then you’d have a chance to be elite on the defensive end. Easy to say, hard to do.
“Guys were really, really competing. Guys were being in the right spots and straining to contest shots and fighting for every loose ball. It was a very encouraging sign.”
Teddy Allen led the Aggies with 22 points. Jabari Rice had 17 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Donnie Tillman had 14 points and Johnny McCants had 12 points in the win. New Mexico State improves to 3-0 on the season and now has the best non-conference win in the WAC.
Luka Brajkovic had a team-high 19 points for Davidson who are now 1-2 to start the season.