New Mexico opened conference play with a win at home Wednesday night when they defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 78-73. The victory was just what the Lobos needed after tough non-conference losses in the last few weeks to Arizona, Illinois State, Dayton, Virginia Tech, and New Mexico State. Sure enough, a MW conference victory might help jumpstart this team who will take on a mighty foe this weekend in San Diego State.
As for the Fresno State game, New Mexico counted on Tim Williams and Elijah Brown for 37 of the team’s 78 points. Of particular interest is that Brown came off the bench as coach Neal hopes to find a formula for victory. Brown shined in the sixth man role while the starting five found solid contributions in Dane Kuiper (10 points) and Obij Aget (12 points). In fact, this was only the second time this season that four players scored in double digits (the other being a victory over Cal State-Northridge). That sort of balance must intrigue Neal.
This game looked like a New Mexico victory early on as UNM jumped out to an early 29-15 lead, but they wouldn’t be able to sustain it. The Bulldogs battled back in the first half with a 13-1 run to close the gap to just two at halftime. Jahmel Taylor and Karachi Edo paced FSU with 17 and 15 points, respectively.
The second half became something of a free throw shooting contest with the Lobos attempting 24 to the Bulldogs’ 10. This would be the key stat of the game. UNM shot a blistering 85% from the charity stripe, good for 29 points. Brown connected on 14-14 by himself. By comparison, Fresno State only made 7 free throws on the evening. Some of that was Fresno State fouling at the end of the game for clock management and some of that was the good old home whistle. In any case, the Lobos were 15/16 in the final 5:30 of the game so they made the freebies when they counted.
Things also got a little chippy in the second half when play was stopped because Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry reported to the refs that a UNM fan was repeatedly calling FSU players “thugs.” The refs asked that the fan be removed from the game, but Pit employees were unable to identify who it was. While I was not at the game last night, I can attest that at a UNM-FSU game last year, coach Terry was on the receiving end of unsavory comments. While I have always loved the passion of Lobo fans, calling players “thugs” should have no place in the game. One must also recall that last year Cullen Neal received death threats from Lobo fans. I think that it is important to keep in mind that these are 18-22 year-old college students. We have to do better.
Next up for New Mexico is San Diego State on Sunday. Fresno State battles Nevada at home on Saturday.