Nevada outlasts New Mexico State | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada outlasts New Mexico State

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Brandon Fields is playing with a heightened sense of urgency.

“I know every game could be my last,” the Wolf Pack senior guard said. “My mindset right now is that every play could be my last so I’m going to play as hard as I can.”

Fields scored a career-high 32 points Thursday night as the Wolf Pack beat the New Mexico State Aggies, 100-92, in front of 5,878 fans at Lawlor Events Center. The shooting guard also added nine assists.

“I’m just so happy about winning this game,” Fields said. “I’m overwhelmed. They were competing for a championship and we knocked them out.”

The loss dropped New Mexico State to 19-10 overall and 11-4 in the Western Athletic Conference and also handed the WAC regular-season title to Utah State (24-6, 13-2) with one game remaining. The Wolf Pack (18-11, 10-5) still could finish second in the WAC with a victory over Louisiana Tech at Lawlor and a New Mexico State loss at Utah State on the final day of the regular season on Saturday.

“This was definitely a must win for us,” said forward Luke Babbitt, who did his part with 23 points and nine rebounds. “It’s crunch time now.”

Fields, who has now led the Pack in scoring during the past three games, scored 15 points in the first half and 17 more in the second half.

Fields scored his points in bunches, getting 23 of his 32 points in two flurries that added up to just less than nine minutes. He scored 13 points in a stretch of 4 minutes 24 seconds that gave the Pack a 37-32 lead with 3:55 to go in the first half. Fields scored 10 points in another stretch of 4:33 in the second half as the Pack built a 72-65 lead with 6:48 to go.

“Everybody just fed off of Brandon,” said Joey Shaw who contributed 15 points and nine rebounds.

Wolf Pack coach David Carter wasn’t surprised by Fields’ offensive explosion against New Mexico State.

“I think he had 30 against them a couple years ago,” said Carter, referring to Fields’ previous career high of 29 points on Feb. 28, 2008, in a 98-85 victory over the Aggies at Lawlor. “So I think he likes playing against them.”

The entire Wolf Pack team enjoyed playing against the Aggies on Thursday. The Pack outrebounded the Aggies 42-35, just the second time in the last 13 games the Pack has outrebounded an opponent. The plus-seven rebound difference is also the Pack’s biggest since they outrebounded New Mexico State by nine (38-29) in a 77-67 victory at Las Cruces, N.M.

“When our guards rebound well, we can outrebound a lot of teams,” said Carter, referring to Fields’ seven rebounds, nine from Shaw and four from Armon Johnson.

The Pack also reached 100 points for the third time this season and the first time in a WAC game since a 101-76 victory over Rice at Lawlor on Jan. 24, 2004.

All five Pack starters scored nine or more points for the first time this season. Johnson had nine points and 11 assists and center Dario Hunt had 14 points and six rebounds to complement Fields, Babbitt and Shaw.

“We’re a very unselfish team,” Babbitt said. “Our coaches did a great job of preparing us. We knew they (New Mexico State) were going to come out in a zone and we were ready.”

Fields, Shaw and Hunt all scored inside to break a 41-41 halftime tie, giving the Pack a 47-41 lead 90 seconds into the second half.

“That was big, to come out and set the tone in the second half,” Carter said.

The Aggies, though, took a 58-55 lead with just less than 11 minutes to play on a 3-point play by Gordo Castillo. The Pack also found themselves in a 61-61 tie with 9:41 to play after a 3-point play by the Aggies’ Troy Gillenwater.

A jumper by Johnson, a dunk by Fields and a 3-pointer by Babbitt, though, gave the Pack a 68-61 lead with 7:34 to go. New Mexico State never cut the Pack lead to less than five points the rest of the way.

“It was important for us to build a lead like that and close a team out,” Carter said. “We needed to do that to build confidence for next week (in the WAC tournament March 11-13).”

“This felt like a tournament game,” Fields said.

It was Fields who capped off the night, picking up his ninth assist on an alley-oop lob to Hunt for a dunk and a 95-85 lead with 29 seconds to go.

“It feels good to beat a team twice in a season,” said Shaw, referring to the Pack’s 77-67 win in Las Cruces, N.M., over the Aggies. “But we know next time they will come at us even harder.”

 “It puts doubt in their mind,” said Carter of the Aggies. “That’s what we were trying to do.”