The top two teams in the Mountain West finally got a chance to play each other. In the first of two games in two weeks between No. 6 San Diego State (23-3) and New Mexico (21-5), the Lobos dominated on their home court and defeated the Aztecs 58-44. Oddsmakers gave the Lobos a slight advantage going into the game. The win brings New Mexico and San Diego State even in conference play at 12-2 and tied for first place.
Cameron Bairstow had 10 points and six rebounds to lead New Mexico to a seven point first-half advantage, 29-22. The Aztecs were down by 11 points before they cut the lead to 20-23. But the Lobos finished the half strong, scoring the final four points. Xavier Thames missed his first seven shots from the field in the first half. J.J. O'Brien missed his first four shots. At the midway point, they were a combined 2-of-17. Considering how poorly the Aztecs shot (30.6%) compared to 48.1% for the Lobos, San Diego State was fortunate to be down single digits.
The second half was much of the same. The Aztecs continued to struggle on offense, and some of the credit goes to the defense of the Lobos. Hugh Greenwood played tough defense against Thames all night, limiting the Aztecs' best player to seven points on 3-for-15 shooting. San Diego State settled for and missed too many tough two-point shots early in the shot clock. And they didn't hit their first three pointer until Aqeel Quinn knocked one down halfway through the second half.
Aztecs held New Mexico to its lowest offensive output for the season. So even though New Mexico shot 50% from the field, the point total was well below their average. New Mexico also held San Diego State to their season low in points scored.
Bairstow finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Kendall Williams had 10 points and seven assists for the Lobos. Winston Shepard was the only Aztecs player in double digits, scoring 10 points and pulling down six rebounds. O'Brien had eight points and four rebounds.
The Aztecs routinely make more free throws than their opponents take. Tonight they went 0-3 from the line and New Mexico was 4-6 on free throws. So in a season in which touch fouls are the norm and it wouldn't have been a surprise for these two teams to get to the charity stripe a combined 40 or more times, they only had a combined nine free throw attempts.
At the end of the game, there seemed to be a bit of bad blood on the court and off. The players engaged in some mild pushing and words during the handshake line. Fans threw something at the Aztecs players as they left the game and exited down the tunnel. This is being investigated.
San Diego State and New Mexico square off again for the last game of the regular season on Saturday, March 8 at Viejas Arena in San Diego. The winner of that game will likely win the conference regular season crown.