A year after being surprised in their own arena by a more physical, more focused New Mexico St. Aggies team, the New Mexico Lobos took the lesson to heart and rose to the challenge Saturday afternoon, besting the visiting Aggies 73-58 before the first sell out crowd of the year at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
The Lobos remained undefeated by out-performing and out-toughing NMSU as well as out-rebounding an Aggie team that was averaging more boards than UNM has been this year.
"[I'm] extremely pleased," said head coach Steve Alford. "I thought our energy was really good. I thought our concentration was outstanding. And we did the things that we've been doing.
"We out-rebounded a really good team. We took care of the basketball and we got to the free-throw line. And that's what's we've been doing through this stretch. And for them to continue that after a week off is pleasing," said Alford.
New Mexico (11-0) trailed only after the opening tip, responding to Aggie Daniel Mullings’ opening jumper with an 14-4 capped by a thunderous dunk by Cameron Bairstow that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game.
New Mexico St. (5-5) responded with a run of their own to cut the Lobo lead to 17-14 on a dunk by Bandja Sy. But the Aggies would get no closer and trailed 39-32 at halftime.
In the second half, UNM steadily pushed the lead forward as the pace of the game became herky-jerky due to the Aggies’ disruptive defensive effort. But UNM matched their defense in the second frame, holding the Aggies to 26.7% shooting (8 of 30) and a paltry 2 of 10 on three pointers while.
Overall New Mexico out shot NMSU from the field 42.6% (20 of 47) to 32.8% ( 19 of 58) and 7 of 13 (53.8%) compared to the Aggies’ 4 of 16 (25%).
The Lobos got double figure scoring from four players – 15 points apiece from Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams, 10 points from Tony Snell (who shot a team best 4 of 7 from the field) and 13 points from Chad Adams, who added 10 rebounds (a career high) for his second double-double in the last four games.
Defensively UNM did well, pulling down 29 defensive rebounds, forcing eight turnovers and getting a season high 11 blocks – including four from guard Hugh Greenwood and five from Kirk.
"Our guys love challenges," said Alford. "I don't think we thought about having 11 blocks. I just soon have maybe six blocks and six charges. Be that as it may, 11 blocks are lot of blocks in a game. And it came from a lot of people."
NMSU only had one player in double figures, Mullings who scored 14 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Tyrone Watson led all players in rebounds with 11 and added four points but went 0-5 shooting from the field.
The Lobos now have just three days to prepare before they play the Aggies again, this time at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces. Williams, who also had seven assists and eight rebounds of his own, said the team is guarded against a letdown at NMSU Wednesday.
"It's a rivalry so there's a lot of feel behind it, we hope they don't walk away tonight thinking they have a chance to compete with us wherever we play, but we need to be able to go there and create our own energy and feel," said Williams. "Every game is important especially on the road."