Western Athletic Conference championship game: Grand Canyon routs New Mexico State to seal first-ever NCAA berth
Photo: Chase Stevens

History was made as Grand Canyon clinched their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth with a dominant 74-56 victory over New Mexico State in the Western Athletic Conference championship game.

Jovan Blackshear Jr. led the Antelopes (17-6) with 19 points while Asbjorn Mitgaard added 12 points and eight rebounds. Evan Gilyard II led New Mexico State (12-8) with 18 points.

New Mexico State scored the first four points of the game with back-to-back buckets from Donnie Tillman and Gilyard II through the first 1:41. Blacksher Jr., countered the Aggies' 4-0 run by netting five of the Lopes' points through their 9-5 surge which tied the game with 13:46 left in the frame.

His short jumper was both the response to a Jabari Rice three-pointer as well as the starting point of a 12-0 surge by the Antelopes. Rice's second three-pointer of the half came with 3:48 to left and pulled New Mexico State within eight, 29-21, but again Grand Canyon responded.

Four players scored during the Antelopes' 12-5 run over the last 3:21 of the half as Blackshear Jr. scored five points during it to give top seed Grand Canyon a 41-26 lead at halftime. He had 15 points in the first half while Gilyard II and Tillman led the Aggies with eight and seven respectively.

Grand Canyon built the lead to as many as 19 points, 63-44 before triples by Gilyard II on back-to-back New Mexico State possessions cut the Antelopes' lead down to 63-50 with 4:58 to go, but the Aggies hit just one more field goal from that point on.

Grand Canyon iced the game by hitting nine straight at the foul line through the last 2:22 to seal the victory and make program history.

Grand Canyon players celebrate after winning their first-ever WAC title and the NCAA Tournament berth that goes with it/Photo: Chase Stevens/Associated Press

"To make it even crazier, 23 years ago that happens (his memorable shot for Valparaiso that upset Mississippi in the 1998 NCAA Tournament) and then to be able to celebrate with these guys out there and do something that Grand Canyon has never done before, I don't get sentimental, but this one is very special", said Antelopes head coach Bryce Drew.

"It's such a good feeling because it was a team win", added Midtgaard. "There was not one guy who had to carry the team. It was all of us. Just to be able to celebrate this with the team and the first time for Grand Canyon and being part of that is incredible. It's unbelievable."