LAS VEGAS – (Mar. 9) Seattle University men's basketball gave top-seed New Mexico State a run for its money Friday night in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals, but the Aggies would prevail, 84-79, advancing to Saturday's title game at the Orleans Arena.
The Redhawks (20-13) trailed by as many as 14 late through the first half, but used a huge 23-3 run to close out the frame and take a 43-37 lead into the break.
The game of runs went back in favor of the Aggies (27-5) to start the second half as they opened with 11 straight points to snatch back a 50-43 advantage. Seattle U answered again with a 9-0 capped by a Josh Healthy three and the teams would go back and forth down the stretch.
A three by AJ Harris game NMSU some cushion, 80-74, with 42 seconds remaining. Jordan Hill answered with a three, but the Aggies hit 4-of-6 from the free-throw line to hang on for the win.
"Both teams made the WAC proud tonight," said Head Coach Jim Hayford. "For our team to be able to take one of the 50 best teams in the country right to the wire in a big environment like this, I couldn't be more proud of our guys."
Hearlihy and Hill poured in 23 points apiece for the Redhawks while Richaud Gittens added 12 and Matej Kavas had 11. Seattle U shot 41 percent from the field and 44 percent from three, but hit just 4-of-13 in the second half after going 7-of-12 in the first.
Zach Lofton led all scorers with 31 points, including six triples. Jemerrio Jones had 12 points and 22 rebounds while Harris had 16 points and Keyon Jones chipped in 12.
The Aggies came out of the gates on fire, jumping out to a 21-9 lead with 11:55 to play in the first. Hearlihy got the Redhawks going with back-to-back buckets and a three by Kavas trimmed the spread to five, 23-18.
Back-to-back threes by Lofton opened up the Aggies' largest lead of the night, 34-20, with just over five minutes remaining in the period.
A pair of Hill free throws and a three by Hearlihy brought the spread back into single digits. Kavas would add a pair from the charity stripe, then he and Gittens hit back-to-back threes to make it a one possession game.
A Hearlihy jumper with 47 seconds on the clock tied the score, 37-37. Hearlihy then hit a shot-clock beating three from the corner and Morgan Means drained a long three from the top of the arc as Seattle U closed out the half with 10 straight points.
The Redhawks' season will continue next week as the program has officially accepted invitation into the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Tournament, and will host a first-round game on Wednesday, Mar. 14 at the Connolly Complex. More information will become available when the official bracket is released by the CBI Sunday night.