OREM, Utah — Ben Aird recorded the second triple-double for Utah Valley University in its last three games, but the night still went the way of NJIT as the Highlanders (7-8, 1-0 GWC) escaped the UCCU Center with a 57-52 victory over the Wolverines (7-10, 0-1 GWC) on Saturday night.
UVU led by five with just over two minutes to play in regulation but could only muster two more points the rest of the way, as NJIT closed the Great West Conference opener on a 12-2 spurt.
“It’s very difficult to have back-to-back games with special performances by individual players only to not have either of those efforts rewarded with wins. But it’s a team game,” head coach Dick Hunsaker said.
“I thought NJIT used its athleticism and was quicker and more aggressive than we were at times. This is a terrific win for them.”
Aird matched a career-high with 26 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and set a new school-record with 10 blocks to round out the triple-double. The bulk of the junior’s work was done in the second half as he came out of the intermission with only four points, four rebounds and two blocks.
The Wolverines registered just 15 points in the first half and faced their largest deficit of the game at 26-15 just seconds into the last 20 minutes. But the next seven minutes belonged to UVU, which pieced together a 21-6 run over that span.
Back-to-back corner treys from Keawe Enos and Holton Hunsaker sparked the run, cutting the deficit to five at 17:20. Aird added three points – all at the free-throw line – before a baseline jumper from Alfonzo Hubbard finally knotted the score at 30-30.
Ky Howard knocked down a jumper to restore the lead to NJIT, but four straight points from Aird gave the Wolverines a 34-32 advantage – their first of the game – at 12:24.
Both sides played evenly from there, seeing four ties over the next seven minutes. Aird scored eight of 10 UVU points over one lengthy stretch and dropped in a jumper at 5:11 to tie the Wolverines’ largest advantage at 50-45.
But the last five minutes belonged to the Highlanders, who finished the game with a plus-18 rebounding margin, including 20 offensive boards that led to 15 second chance points.
Hunsaker added nine points for the Wolverines while Enos posted a career-high five assists in just his second career start.
Aird's feat comes just over a week after Nick Thompson had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in a win over Austin Peay. They are the first two triple-doubles in Utah Valley's NCAA Division I era.
UVU will now travel to Kansas City for a 6 p.m. MT meeting with UMKC on Wednesday before resuming GWC play back in Orem against Houston Baptist the following Saturday.
Kellen Hiser is sports information assistant at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company