The New Mexico Lobos had a season low scoring output Saturday night but coupled that by holding the visiting Valparasio Crusaders to the lowest total of any Lobo opponent this season, defeating Valparaiso 65-52 before a season-high audience of 15,244 at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
Starting big men Alex Kirk and Chad Adams each scored 12 points while guard Demetrius Walker came off the bench to score 12 points as well as New Mexico (10-0), ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll and 20th in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll, controlled the pace of play most of the way to stay undefeated on the season.
"I am very pleased. We have had 10 up and 10 down and it has been a very difficult stretch for our guys," said UNM head coach Steve Alford. "I knew this was going to be a grind tonight and I thought our guys did a tremendous job in each twenty minutes guarding. We held them to 25 one half and 27 the other half and made things hard. We knew that they would probably slow things down a little bit which is fine. We have been able to play versatile styles. I really appreciate the effort by our guys."
Valparaiso (6-3) turned the ball over 25 times for the game and the Lobos took advantage, converting the miscues into a 22-3 scoring advantage on points from turnovers. UNM only committed 10 turnovers for the game, a season low.
"It was big and we thought that we could [turn them over] going in," said Alford. "I thought the big key tonight was forcing turnovers."
Valparaiso opened the game with a 5-2 run off a three pointer and lay in from Ryan Broekhoff, who finished the game with 24 points to lead all scorers. But UNM quickly tied the game at 5-5 then took the lead on a three-pointer by Chad Adams to take an 8-5 lead. The Crusaders kept the game close in the first half.
The Lobos pushed the lead out to 23-17 on a Cameron Bairstow jumper with 3:51 left in the half but Valpo kept it close and looked to be trailing by just one going into the break. But freshman Nick Banyard hit a leaning trey with 36 seconds left in the half and UNM would take a 29-25 lead into the break.
The two teams played evenly in the opening minutes of the first half before New Mexico went on an 8-0 run capped by an Alex Kirk free throw that completed a three-point play to give UNM a 41-30 lead with 15:26 left in the game.the lead hovered at 11 until the Lobos managed another run, capped by a trey by walker that gave UNM a 59-44 advantage with 2:04 left in the game.
Kirk said that "patience and getting a little bit better shots" were keys in the second half.
" think we got the ball inside a little bit more in the second half," said Kirk. "We started finishing or at least getting to the line a little bit more. We started off a little slow in the beginning and picking it up and hitting some shots to pull away from them."
UNM again out-shot their opponent at the free throw line, going 20 of 31 compared to the Crusaders' 8 of 18 at the line. Alford said that a key to the win.
"We got to the free throw line again and sometimes when teams zone you, you don’t take advantage of the free throw line," said Alford. "When you get to the line thirty one times with a team who zones you speaks volumes of how aggressive we were. We didn’t make a lot of shots but I did like how we got to the line against the zone defense."
Bairstow and Tony Snell added seven points apiece and Bairstow added five rebounds for UNM. Hugh Greenwood added six points and six rebounds while Kendall Williams scored five points -- all from the free throw line -- and added six of UNM's 16 assists.
Forward Kevin Van Wijk scored seven points for Valparaiso before fouling out and Will Bogan added six points.
New Mexico finished with a 22-16 scoring advantage in the paint and the Lobo reserves outscored Valpo's bench players 23-12.