LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -- Freshman forward Herb Pope had nine rebounds in his long-awaited college debut and sparked a first-half rally that helped New Mexico State beat Louisiana Tech 63-54 Saturday night.
Pope, a prep All-American last year, missed the Aggies' first 19 games after being ruled academically ineligible due to an alternative education program he took in high school. He challenged the ruling in court, a state district judge last month ordered an end to the ban and he was recently cleared to play by the NCAA.
Pope had two key baskets and three assists as New Mexico State (10-10, 4-1 WAC) took a 30-24 halftime lead.
The Aggies started the second half with a 16-6 run paced by Martin Iti's eight points.
Louisiana Tech (3-13, 0-4) closed to 57-54 with 2 minutes remaining after Kyle Gibson hit two 3-pointers.
But New Mexico State hit four free throws in the final seconds, with Pope sinking one of them, to seal the victory.
Gibson paced the Bulldogs with 25 points and Dwayne Lathan added 13.