New Mexico defeated Fresno State 93-77 to advance to the semifinals where they will face the winner between Nevada and Boise State. The Lobos have now won seven consecutive games in the MW Tournament.
Size mattered in this one as both Lobo big men had huge games. Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk each had 21 points from numerous dunks. Bairstow also had 10 boards and two blocks. Kirk pulled down six rebounds and blocked four shots. Kendall Williams added 17 points and nine assists. As usual, Hugh Greenwood had another balanced game with eight points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Allen Huddleston posted 18 points for the Bulldogs and Alex Davis added another 17. MW Freshman of the Year Paul Watson hit four threes to go for 16 points. Marvelle Harris also scored 13 points. The Bulldogs had a solid game but they were at a disadvantage in the paint. The Lobos had more than double the points in the pain than the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs hit eight threes (twice as many as UNM), but struggled overall from the field. Fresno shot 39.7% compared to UNM's 56.9%. Similarly, the Bulldogs hit 19-28 free throws to the Lobo's 31-38. The Lobos also out rebounded the Bulldogs 40-25.
There's something about these two teams that generates a lot of friction and contact. It's not that the play was chippy, it's just that both teams like to play a similar style but New Mexico has the size to back it up and Fresno doesn't. In the two games these teams have played this season there were 140 combined free throw attempts. That is a lot.
The Lobos opened up an early 14-3 lead with points from all five starters. A Marvelle Harris three-point play finally gave the Bulldogs a jolt on offense. Then their pressure defense managed to force a few UNM turnovers to get within five points at the 6:49 mark.
The Lobos cleaned up their game and answered with an 8-0 run to build a 28-42 lead with 3:00 to play in the first half. Fresno started driving the rim and the whistles followed; the Bulldogs drew three fouls in the final two minutes. A Cleveland Thomas buzzer-beater trey gave the Lobos a 49-35 advantage going into the half.
The second half was much of the same except with more fouls. There were 43 fouls called this game. A 7-0 run gave the Lobos a 54-73 lead with around 8:00 remaining. From there on out it became a bit of a free-throw competition but the Lobos were able to hold off the Bulldogs.
Cullen Neal and Deshawn Delaney both played with a lot of energy and picked up the Lobos when the rest of the offense was sputtering. There were a few sloppy turnovers from forced plays or errant passes.
The Lobos need to slow it down when the pace is in their favor. Overall though, if this game was the bellwether for how New Mexico is going to play in this tournament and the next, I'd say Coach Neal and Lobo fans (who were in abundance Thursday night) will take it. The next game will be against the winner of Nevada and Boise State Friday night at 9:30 pm MT.
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