New Mexico State holds off Illinois at United Center, 74-69
CHICAGO (AP) AJ Harris had the game-winning 3-point play, Zach Lofton scored 23 points and New Mexico State rallied late for a 74-69 win over Illinois on Saturday night after losing a 15-point lead.
With the score tied at 69 in the final minute, Illinois had the ball coming out of a timeout with a chance to take the lead. But the Aggies came up with a steal and Harris converted on the fastbreak while being fouled. He hit the free throw with 29.2 seconds to go to make it 72-69.
Harris had 16 points on 7 for 8 shooting.
Eli Chuha had 11 points and hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left to seal the win.
Leron Black had 17 points and Te-Jon Lucas added 14 for Illinois (8-5).
The matchup in the United Center was a tribute to former coach Lou Henson, who is the winningest coach at both schools. Henson led New Mexico State – his alma mater – to the Final Four in 1970. He also led Illinois to the Final Four in 1989.
Henson, 85, was hospitalized earlier in the week and had to cancel plans to attend the game.
New Mexico State (9-2) led by as many as 15 points in the first half before Illinois opened the second half with a 13-1 run for a tie at 39.
The Illini led 48-43 with just under 10 minutes to play before the Aggies rallied.
New Mexico State: Behind graduate transfer Lofton, the Aggies are off to a solid start and could be headed for a strong season – especially with the grit they showed late.
Illinois: For the Illini to be competitive in the Big Ten, it must develop more offensive consistency. This performance featured too many fits and starts offensively and that was the difference.
New Mexico State: Play Davidson on Friday in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
Illinois: Face Missouri on Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.