Aggies defeated WKU 92-82

Achieving milestones was the theme of the night as the New Mexico State Aggies (12-5, 3-3) defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-7, 4-2) 92-82 Saturday night at the Pan American Center.

Mothers often know best. Kelsey Crooks will testify to that. "My mom gave me a pep talk the other day," he said, following New Mexico State's 92-82 men's basketball victory over Western Kentucky here Saturday.

"She told me I was passing up too many shots, that when I'm open to take those shots I used to hit. It paid off."

True.

Crooks scored a career high 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, had two steals and three assists and was a huge reason the Aggies hiked their record to 3-3 in the Sun Belt Conference and 12-5 overall. Western Kentucky, the pre-season choice to win the league championship, dropped to 4-2 and 11-7.

NMSU, which leaned too heavily on forward James Moore and guard Jason Fontenet in last Thursday's 70-68 loss to Middle Tennessee, found help there and elsewhere against the Hilltoppers.

Besides Crooks, guard Brandon Mason scored 14 points after totaling only five against the Blue Raiders. Center Chris Jackson, who punished Western Kentucky with 11 points and 11 rebounds, had managed only three points against Middle Tennessee.

Moore turned in a superb performance against the Hilltoppers. He blocked five shots, setting a new school career record of 126 in the process.

"I feel lucky to have done it in three years," he said.

The Aggies' 6-foot-8 junior also drilled 19 points, totaled 11 rebounds, had three assists and two steals. "James Moore played awfully well," said Lou Henson, NMSU's coach.

"He does it all. Defense, rebounding, blocked shots, scoring--you name it."

Henson praised Jason Fontenet ( "he did a good job of running the ball club") and called Crooks' perfomance "fantastic. Kelsey rebounded, scored--he did everything."

The Aggies coach was also cognizant of Western Kentucky's ability to shoot 3-point shots. Led by sophomore guard Patrick Sparks' 27 points (7 of 12 3-pointers) the Hilltoppers hit nine treys in a row at one point.

"I don't believe I've ever seen such an exhibition of three-point shooting," Henson said. "We played as well as we could play and they're (Western Kentucky) right there with us."

Although NMSU never trailed, Sparks' 3-pointer with 11:35 left tied the score, 61-61. Crooks answered with a shot from the corner and when Jason Fontenet drilled a 3-pointer and Brandon Mason followed with a field goal, the Aggies were ahead to stay, 68-61.

The outcome was still questionable, however, until Mason's jam with 28 seconds left opened an 87-79 lead.

New Mexico State's performance far outshadowed its efforts against Middle Tennessee two nights earlier when the Ags shot 40.4 percent from the field (only 25 percent on 3-pointers) and missed 11 of 32 free throws.

"We didn't get as much scoring (against Middle Tennessee)," Henson said. "We played almost as well as we did tonight but we just didn't score.

"Yes, our energy level was better tonight (than it was against Middle Tennessee), but when you're scoring, your energy level goes up."

Against Western Kentucky, the Aggies hit 45.9 percent from the field and outrebounded the Hilltoppers 47-38. "Our size did help in rebounding," Henson said.

Dennis Felton, Western Kentucky's coach, was not surprised NMSU played so well. "I expected them to," he said.

"They were much more aggressive than us and they played with incredible fire and energy. I thought their post players were more aggressive than ours."

Felton was also impressed with his team's hitting 14 of 30 3-pointers. "Whenever you hit 14 3s, that's extraordinary. We have a lot of good shooters."

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