Cal Baptist sure knows how to make an entrance.
Milan Acquaah’s half-court buzzer beater at Oral Roberts gave the Lancers a dramatic win in their first game as a Division I team against a Division I opponent. They then topped that on Thursday night, knocking off WAC heavyweight and preseason favorite New Mexico State 82-76 in their first conference game.
The upset brewed immediately.
CBU raced out to a 28-11 lead behind a barrage of baskets from Acquaah. The Lancers then had to withstand a rally from the Aggies, which included an 11-0 run that helped whittle the CBU lead to just three at halftime.
But the Lancers would respond right away out of the break, opening the second half with a 16-6 run capped by this long range firework from Acquaah:
It was a part of a career night for the Washington State transfer, whose brilliant non-conference performance likely made him an early WAC Player of the Year contender. That case was made stronger against the Aggies’ high-end defense, as Acquaah poured in a career-high 36 points (10-19 FG, 13-13 FT) while adding seven rebounds.
Despite pushing the lead to 13 with 5:32 left in the game, CBU had to play pressure-packed possessions down the stretch. A Terrell Brown three-point play sandwiched around the under four media timeout seemed to give NMSU life, and the Aggies would close the lead to just three with 2:03 left.
A parade of free throws ensued, and CBU’s efficiency from the line (32-36 for the game) kept an NMSU team that did not quit at bay. Senior Jordan Heading (14 points) made the highest-pressure free throws of the night, sinking a pair with 14 seconds left after the Aggies had the clawed the game within three yet again.
While Acquaah was the undeniable story of the night, fouls were a close second. A total of 54 were called, which had Rick Croy closely manage his frontcourt rotation. Starting forward De’jon Davis fouled out early in the second half, while fellow big men Zach Pirog, Mike Henn and Glenn Morison dealt with foul trouble the entire night.
That would’ve seemed deadly against an Aggies team with plenty of frontcourt talent that trounced teams on the glass in non-conference play. But the Lancers were able to hold their own on the glass (outrebounded by just 11), and played stout defense against NMSU’s drives to the basket throughout the night. In total, the Aggies shot just 31.1 percent from the field, with junior center Ivan Aurrecoechea — NMSU’s leading scorer — completely wiped out (0 points, 0-7 FG).
Offensively, Henn in particular pitched in a momentum-bolstering three with 8:01 left in the second half to answer an Aggies basket and push the CBU lead to 13.
In the big picture, the win immediately brought a big Division I moment to CBU’s sparkling new gym. There is no better win than NMSU in the WAC, as the Las Cruces power has made the NCAA Tournament in six out of the last seven seasons. The Lancers had a fantastic 8-5 non-conference run, but did not have a win close to the magnitude of the one Thursday night.
They will try to follow their first conference win with their first conference winning streak when UTRGV visits Riverside on Saturday night.