LAS CRUCES, N.M. -Justin Hawkins scored 20 points and Elijah Ingram had 18 points, including four rainbow 3-pointers, to lead New Mexico State to a 72-70 win over Utah State in the Western Athletic Conference title game on Saturday night and a berth in the NCAAs.
New Mexico State's Ted Knauber stepped in front Kris Clark's pass intended for teammate Chris Session as Utah State was trying to work for a potential game-winning or tying shot. Knauber made the steal, was fouled and made two free throws with 12.2 seconds left to make the score 72-68.
Utah State's Jaycee Carroll hit a layup with 2 seconds left and New Mexico State gave Utah State one last chance when Tyrone Nelson threw a long inbounds pass that wasn't touched. Utah State got the ball back under its basket with 1.6 seconds left and Carroll, under pressure, was short on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Carroll scored 26 points, Durrall Peterson scored 15 for Utah State, which beat No. 10 ranked Nevada in Friday's semifinals.
New Mexico State, which two years ago finished 6-24 - the school's worst season in 39 years - completed its remarkable turnaround under coach Reggie Theus, the former NBA All-Star who was hired after that disastrous season.
New Mexico State (25-8) won the tournament on its homecourt and earned its first NCAA tournament trip since 1999 before a boisterous partisan crowd of more than 12,000 that stormed the court after the win and broke out in cheers of "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie."
But Utah State (23-11) nearly silenced the crowd with a stirring second half comeback led by Carroll and Chaz Spicer.
Ingram hit a 3 to put the Aggies up 44-32 with 16:06, but Carroll and Spicer scored 10 straight points and Stephen DuCharme added a layup to give Utah State its first lead of the game (47-46) with 10:11 left.
New Mexico State, which went scoreless for nearly five minutes during Utah State's rally, broke the drought with two free throws from Tyrone Nelson and a high-arching 3-pointer by Ingram. Nelson made it 58-51 with a layup, but Carroll and Co. and weren't done.
Carroll hit a a 3-pointer and followed with two free throws. Ingram hit two free throws but Utah State's Peterson countered with a 3-pointer that sliced the NMSU lead to 60-59 with 5:15 left.
A 3-pointer by Knauber and baskets by Hawkins and Nelson pushed the lead up to 68-61, but Utah State had another rally left. Peterson hit a 3-pointer and Carroll two free throws. New Mexico State freshman Jonathan Gibson then hit a layup with 1:08 left and Ducharme hit two free throws with 59.6 seconds remaining.