The USD men’s basketball team had dropped two games in a row. The Toreros were in a Siberia-cold shooting slump. Adding to the potential skid, they had a date with New Mexico State on Wednesday night, in Las Cruces, where the Aggies were 21-1 since last season.
Make that 21-2.
Lamont Smith’s team posted its most impressive victory of the season, pulling away late to defeat New Mexico State 65-60 in front of 3,798 at the Pan American Center.
“I’m just so happy for our kids,” Smith said. “They were so resilient tonight. We really challenged them.”
Smith did not think the Toreros (6-2) responded well to adversity in their 67-57 loss at UC Santa Barbara last Saturday.
“I don’t think we played our best,” Smith said by phone. “We challenged them from the standpoint that when we get punched, are we going to punch back?”
Wednesday night, in a hostile setting, USD responded. Leading 56-50 with 6:06 to play, the Toreros watched the Aggies rally to tie the game 56-56 with 4:23 remaining
Rather than USD folding, here’s what transpired: Tyler Williams, who missed the first five games of the season with a broken toe, nailed a 3-pointer. On the next trip down the floor, he scored from the field.
It was 61-56. New Mexico State, which has made the NCAA Tournament six of the past eight years, threw one more punch, pulling back to within one. USD didn’t hit the canvass.
Isaiah Pineiro made two free throws with 19 seconds to play, then Williams iced the victory by hitting two from the line with 10 seconds left.
Pineiro, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, scored a game-high 23 points and had six rebounds.
“He was terrific,” Smith said. “He was aggressive attacking the rim.”
Point guard Isaiah Wright scored 17 points, with eight rebounds and three assists.
“He was back to his normal game,” Smith said. “He gave us confidence. He is our quarterback.”
New Mexico State dropped to 6-2. The Aggies’ other loss was to USD WCC rival Saint Mary’s.
Norcross is a freelance writer.
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