Just six or so hours after regaining their national ranking the New Mexico Lobos put forth one of their worst performances of the 2012-12 season, losing 60-46 to the unranked St. Louis Billikens before 6,782 in St. Louis, Mo. Monday night.
The Lobos loss, the first on the road this season, in large part due to committing a season-high 22 turnovers caused by the Billikens’ stifling defense.
"This was just a bad 20 minutes on the road," said head coach Steve Alford, who picked up two technical fouls back to back midway through the second half and was ejected from the game.
"It was just a very poor first half," said Alford. "I'll take responsibility. We obviously weren't ready to play and not being ready to play falls on my shoulders. There were too many guys, to me, who weren't ready to play the game."
It’s hard to overstate how bad the turnover situation was in the first half. UNM, which was re-entered the AP poll at No. 20 and the Coaches poll at No. 23, came into the game with an average of 9.5 turnovers in the last four games – three of those being wins. The Lobos had hit that number by the midway point of the first half, having turned the ball over on seven straight possessions.
New Mexico (13-2) finished the half with more turnovers (16) than points (13) as St. Louis (10-3) scored 22 of its first half point off of turnovers and led 33-13. The 13 points posted by New Mexico was the fewest in the Alford era and the fewest since March 18, 2005, when UNM fell behind Villanova 34-11 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
"They really pressured us," said Alford. "We really wanted to get the ball inside to Alex (Kirk) and we had a hard time doing that because we couldn't get open on the wings."
In he second half, UNM began to go more to its inside game, primarily running the offense through center Alex Kirk. As a result, he Lobos rallied to begin the half, outscoring the Billikens 16-5 to cut the lead to 38-29 with 13:21 left in the game.
But Kirk picked up his third foul soon after that and St. Louis was able to go on a 13-2 run of its own to reestablish the lead at 20 at 51-31 on three of four made free throws with 9:25 left in the game – shortly after Alford picked up a pair of technical fouls while trying to call a timeout for his team.
"To get a double technical, I had to literally call timeout three times," said Alford, who was also appealing a foul call. "I've been worse than that in 22 seasons and never got a technical.
"I apologize," said Alford, who has picked up three technical fouls in two Lobo loses this season. "I was not trying to get a technical or get ejected."
The Billikens finished with three players in double figures, led by forward Cory Remekun who scored 15 points. Cody Ellis came off the bench to add 13 points on 3 of 6 three point shooting and Mike McCall, Jr. scored 12 points before fouling out along with center Rob Loe.
New Mexico was paced by Kendall Williams, who scored 15 points on 5 of 14 shooting with four assists and three turnovers. Kirk added 13 points and eight rebounds in just 26 minutes of play. UNM finished shooting just 31.8 % (14 of 44) and 25% from three point range (3 of 12). The only stat line the Lobos did better in was rebounding, where UNM outrebounded the Billikens 36-32. St. Louis outscored New Mexico in the paint 32-16 and with its bench, 17-9.
"Our guys fought in the second half and we got back to doing the things we had been doing all season long," said Alford. "I like our fight and our grit in the second half. But we can't start on the road against a very good basketball team and get down 20 points. I give Saint Louis credit. They did a lot of positive things."