HONOLULU — Buoyed by a staunch defensive effort and gritty play down the stretch, New Mexico State got a defining win for the program.
Zach Lofton scored 15 points and the Aggies knocked off No. 6 Miami 63-54 in the Diamond Head Classic semifinals Saturday night.
New Mexico State (11-2) beat a ranked team for the first time in 10 seasons and handed the Hurricanes (10-1) their first loss, leaving Villanova, Arizona State and TCU the lone undefeated Division I teams in the country.
Lofton had nine rebounds and three assists, and AJ Harris and Sidy N’Dir had 10 points apiece for New Mexico State.
“We don’t get many opportunities like this to play highly-ranked teams on a neutral court,” coach Chris Jans said. “And when you have those opportunities you’ve got to take full advantage of it and I couldn’t be more proud of the group of guys than I am right now.”
New Mexico State took the lead for good with 3:43 left in the first half on a baseline drive by Johnathon Wilkins to make it 23-21.
“We talked, in our timeouts, about having that same mindset,” Jans said. “Even though we were leading, to continue to defend and rebound like we were behind and to play with a sense of urgency and to not relax and I think the fellas kind of rallied around that.”
Miami cut it to 54-53 on Bruce Brown Jr.’s two free throws with 1:25 remaining, but Lofton made a deep 3-pointer from the right wing to make it a two-possession game.
“It just came down to toughness,” Lofton said. “Our team showed toughness.”
DJ Vasiljevic led Miami with 15 points, Brown had 13 and Dewan Huell 10.
“What we told the team before the game was (the Aggies) sometimes make difficult shots and don’t be surprised if they do it,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “It’s not an accident if they do it, (because) they do that from time to time. Unfortunately, it was at critical times, when we were starting to make a run and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
The Hurricanes led by seven during the first half.
New Mexico State led at halftime 29-25 in the first meeting between the schools.
New Mexico State: It was the Aggies’ first win over a ranked opponent since March 3, 2007, when they beat then-No. 13 Nevada 80-73. They had lost their last 18 games against ranked opponents until Saturday.
Miami: The Hurricanes were held to one of their poorest shooting performances this season. They shot just 34 percent from the field (18 of 53), well below their season average of 49.6 percent. They entered averaging 76.8 points per game.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Miami was a dismal 2-of-18 shooting (11.1 percent) from 3-point range, with the lone makes coming from Vasiljevic. The Hurricanes entered the game shooting at a 38.6-percent clip from beyond the arc.
AN UNHAPPY MEMORY
Saturday marked the 35th anniversary of Division-II Chaminade’s upset of then-No. 1 Virginia, which took place in Honolulu. Larranaga, an assistant on the Cavaliers staff at the time, was asked what he remembers from the game.
“What I remember is we were the No. 1 team in the country and we had Ralph Sampson,” Larranaga said. “We had just beaten Georgetown with Patrick Ewing and Houston with Hakeen Olajuwon and we came here and the game was called the greatest upset in college basketball history and still thirty-five years later people are bringing it up to me, so it’s not a great memory for me, but I’m sure it is to Chaminade and the people on the island.”
New Mexico State will try to make it five straight wins when it faces Southern California for the tournament title Monday.
Miami looks to get back into the win column against Middle Tennessee in the third-place game Monday.