The nationally-ranked New Mexico Lobos trailed nearly the entire game Saturday afternoon and never found their rhythm offensively or defensively, losing 70-65 to the unheralded South Dakota St. Jackrabbits before 15,278 at The Pit in Albuquerque.
The Jackrabbits trailed just once, 3-0 less than two minutes into the game, the roared out to a 12-2 run and literally never looked back in stunning previously-undefeated New Mexico (12-1), which came in ranked 16th in the AP poll and 17th in the Coaches poll.
"We never got in sync all night," said UNM head coach Steve Alford. "Our rhythm was bad I think from beginning to end. And they [South Dakota State] had a lot to do with that. It's a very good basketball team. They play well together. The Wolters kid is the real deal and as good of a point guard as we've played all year."
Senior Nate Wolters scored 28 points on 9 of 15 shooting to lead South Dakota St. (10-4) to the win and the Jackrabbits finished with four players scoring in double figures and outrebounding the Lobos 36-28.
UNM played without junior Kendall Williams and senior Chad Adams in the starting line-up, due to their being late showing up Saturday morning. Guard Hugh Greenwood said the change in line-ups hurt the team.
"It threw us out of sync," said Greenwood. "You want your starting lineup and starts are very important. Tonight they jumped us at the start with a different lineup."
For his part, Williams – who scored a team-high 21 points and dished 4 assists for UNM – took responsibility for the loss.
"As far as the loss goes most of it is on my hands and some on Chad in terms of not keeping it consistent," he said. "We have to move on and I take a lot of blame for it on and off the court. I need to pick it up. We have a few days off and we need to move on."
After trailing by as much as nine at 21-12 at 9:14 left in the first half, New Mexico rallied to cut the deficit to 23-20 on a Greenwood three pointer.
But as they would do all night, SDSU answered and ran the lead up to 35-23 with 4:50. The Lobos rallied again to cut the Jackrabbits’ lead to 38-34 at halftime.
SDSU opened the second half on a 6-2 run to take a 45-36 lead with 17:25 left in the game. UNM was able to rally one last time to cut the Jacks’ lead to 51-48 on a Jamal Fenton three pointer with 8:57 left in the game.
But SDSU countered with a 6-0 run and upped their defensive effort, keeping the Lobos from hitting another field goal until 30 seconds left in the game as New Mexico was limited to shooting free throws for just over eight minutes.
Forced to foul in the final minute, UNM never cut the lead under five points. Williams hit a three-pointer with 14 seconds to cut the score to 70-65. Greenwood forced a turnover on the inbounds but Williams missed a lay up and the follow and SDSU gathered the ball and with four seconds left to secure the win.
"Two teams had to play tonight and one team was a lot more focused than the other at both ends of the floor," said Alford. "And the indiscipline that we've had now here off the floor showed up on the floor tonight. Our offense was executed extremely poorly. I can give them a lot of credit defensively. But I also credit a real lack of execution offensively on our guy's part."
South Dakota St. shot 14 of 27 in the first half for 51.9% shooting and finished with a 24 of 50 performance (48%). The Jackrabbits also went 13 of 15 from the freee throw line (86.7%). Jordan Dykstra added 10 points and 10 rebounds for SDSU while Brayden Carlson scored 10 points and Chad white added 13 points.
Junior Tony Snell was the only other player in double figures for UNM, scoring 13 pints on 3 of 9 shooting. Alex Kirk led the Lobos in rebounds with six and added six points.