The New Mexico Lobos (14-4) earned a nice win Tuesday night by defeating early season dark horse, Boise State (13-6), 84-75. The Lobos improve to 5-1 in the conference, half a game behind league leader, SDSU. The Broncos are tied for fourth place in the conference at 3-3.
This was a big game for the Lobos for several reasons. After losing to supposedly floundering UNLV in The Pit last week and NMSU earlier in the season, the Lobos needed to win in front of their home-base. Additionally, in those two games the Lobos went down early and had to fight back to stay in the hunt. Against Boise State, New Mexico came on strong and never let up, jumping out to an early 17-4 lead and then leading 40-27 at the half. This game also showed how dangerous New Mexico can be when firing on all cylinders; four players scored 15 points or more.
"They really didn't have an answer for us in the first half," said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. "To play us, you have to play big-big because you have to guard us (inside). I think most teams are trying to match up with us because they have seen our success."
Lastly, this win boosts the Lobo's RPI standing (currently 41st in ESPN's RPI rankings), hopefully enough to keep New Mexico firmly inside the bubble come selection time. As for the Broncos, sadly, nearly the inverse is true. The Bronco's RPI ranking will take a hit, making an at-large bid more difficult, but not impossible. The Broncos are currently ranked 49th in ESPN's RPI rankings. The Broncos are going to have finish very strong to keep their post-season hopes alive.
New Mexico was led by Hugh Greenwood, who had a coming-out party of sorts on his way to a masterful 20 points, including five three-pointers. Greenwood also grabbed four rebounds. "In the back of my mind, I knew I needed to help them (the "Big Three"). I'm just trying to help those guys out and take pressure off their back."
As for the "Big Three," Kendall Williams hit another three treys to go for 18 points, nine assists, and three steals. Cameron Bairstow continued his excellent senior year with 17 points on 7-8 shooting. Alex Kirk added another 15 points and blocked five shots. Kirk went 7-11 from the charity stripe. And Deshawn Delaney only had two points, but he led the team in rebounds with nine.
Derrick Marks paced the Broncos with 19 points. Nick Duncan hit five three-pointers and one free-throw for a total of 16 points. Ryan Watkins scored 15 and pulled down an impressive 22 boards, 11 of them offensive. Watkins was unstoppable on the glass allowing the Broncos to gain a 41-28 advantage on rebounds, rather surprising considering the Lobos average around 40 rebounds per game compared to Boise State's 35.8. Mikey Thompson added another 11 points for the Broncos.
Boise State really had an off night shooting wise, only hitting 37.5 percent of their shots compared to UNM's 57.1 percent. But the Broncos started warming up late in the second half, trimming UNM's lead to seven around the 8:00 mark. But Greenwood struck again with another three-pointer to put the Lobos up 69-59 with 6:30 left to play.
After Williams missed the front-end of a one-and-one chance and followed that up with a missed layup, the Broncos had possession with five minutes down, trailing only by five points. The Lobos were able to force a turnover that allowed Williams to hit a trey to give New Mexico a 72-64 lead. That was enough to paint the window shut. Williams found Bairstow for a layup around the 2:00 mark that gave the Lobos a sufficient cushion to close out the game. "We're 5-and-1. That's pretty good," said Coach Neal. "Our guys have done a heck of a job concentrating and getting wins."
If Greenwood plays with the same confidence and finesse, the Lobos are going to tough to guard with Bairstow and Kirk on the inside and Williams and Greenwood on the outside. "He's passed up shots in the past," Neal said of Greenwood. "But I think he played really free tonight. He played the way I envisioned him playing. I think he can make shots like that." In any case, this was an encouraging win for a Lobo team that needs encouragement.
New Mexico's next game is on the road against Colorado State (12-7, 3-3). The Lobos are 3-0 on the road in conference play, but Moby Arena is a tough place to win. Let's see if Greenwood and the Lobos can build on their momentum.