SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — With 11 minutes left in the game and his team clinging to a 2-point lead, Washington State's CJ Elleby turned to his teammates on the floor and said "'This is our game.''
He was right.
Elleby scored 20 points as Washington State hung on to beat New Mexico State 63-54 on Saturday at the Spokane Arena.
The sophomore is taking more of a leadership role this year.
“'I can get my teammates going a little more,'” Elleby said. "'Just being a team player is one thing I try to focus in on."'
Jeff Pollard added nine points and 10 rebounds for Washington State (5-4), which was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 this season. Tony Miller also scored nine in the defensive battle.
‘"This was a big win for us,’" Pollard said, noting the Aggies beat Washington State twice last year.
Washington State coach Kyle Smith pointed to a defensive effort that held New Mexico State to 34% shooting and forced them into 17 turnovers.
"'I can't think of anyone that didn't have a nice defensive effort,"' Smith said.
The game plan was to take away the Aggies' ability to hit 3-pointers and stay even on the glass, Smith said.
New Mexico State made just 5-of-28 from 3-point range, and won the rebound battle just 42-37.
Jabari Rice and Trevelin Queen each scored 14 points for New Mexico State (5-5), which had won both previous meetings of these teams. The Aggies play in the Western Athletic Conference.
New Mexico State coach Chris Jans said his team played flat in the first half, but improved in the second.
"'But it was too little, too late,"' Jans said.
‘"Turnovers and 3-point shooting were our Achilles’ heel," Jans said. "'We had a hard time knocking down shots."'
This was Washington State's annual game in Spokane, where they have an 18-17 record.
In the first half, New Mexico State went on a 9-0 run to take an 11-8 lead.
But Washington State put together a 16-2 run of its own, capped by Marvin Cannon's 3-pointer, to build a 27-16 lead late in the first.
Washington State led 30-21 at halftime, largely by holding the Aggies to 36% shooting while hounding them into 11 turnovers. Washington State shot just 32% in the first, but made seven 3-pointers while New Mexico State sank just two.
Elleby scored Washington State's first nine points of the second half as the Cougars built a 39-25 lead.
Ivan Aurrechoechea had a pair of baskets as the Aggies scored 11 consecutive points to cut WSU's lead to 39-36. The Cougars went more than four minutes without a field goal.
The Aggies got within 41-39, but the Cougars replied with a 12-2 run for a 53-41 lead.
Queen sank a 3-pointer as the Aggies cut WSU's lead to 53-49.
But Washington State sank its free throws and the Aggies could get no closer in the final minutes.
“'Somewhere in there we found enough in us to fight back,'” Smith said of his Cougars. ‘"It wasn’t pretty.'"
New Mexico State: The Aggies are now 0-5 record in their history in games played in Spokane. The losses included three NCAA Tournament games and one loss at Gonzaga.
Washington State: The Cougars are still trying to find their footing under new coach Kyle Smith. The Cougars lead the nation by averaging just nine turnovers per game, while forcing 16 turnovers per game. Elleby came in averaging 20 points per game and hit his average exactly.
New Mexico State plays at Denver on Tuesday.
Washington State hosts UC Riverside on Dec. 15.
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