No. 15/16 Lobos strong arm AFA 81-58

UNM's Alex Kirk

In New Mexico Lobos lore, a "Pit Game" is one for the books. And the Lobos 81-58 win before 15,373 in The Pit Wednesday night was certainly that. It was a duel for sole possession of 1st place against Air Force replete with challenges from the Falcons. A second half altercation overshadowed UNM's stout defensive effort. But in the end, the incident became the catalyst for the win.

"I love Pit games," said UNM head coach Steve Alford as he sat for the post game press conference, clearly still charged from the victory. "I love Pit games. Nothing better."

The "Incident" began with a simple timeout. AFA's Kyle Green, who had cut the Lobo lead to 57-51 with a wide open trey just 3 minutes before, bumped shoulders hard with Lobo guard Jamal Fenton at mid court. Soon an Air Force assistant coach was yelling at Fenton, which set off Alford and assistant coach Craig Neal. Both benches cleared and strong words were exchanged as coaches and players were restrained and the officials worked out the foul situation.

In the end, Green, Fenton and Kendall Williams were all assessed technical fouls, Air Force's Todd Fletcher' hit one of two free throws and the Lobo went on an 8-0 run that put the what had been a tightening game out of the Falcons' reach."

"It was obviously something with players," said Alford after the game. "I think the exchange of coaches' came because we aren't going to let that happen. That made things get a little more heated and the officials did a really good job of calming everyone down.

"It was really to our benefit, because, I'm not sure what the score was at that point, but I think after that it was very good play on our part."

The Lobos took the negative energy from the incident and turned it into positive aggressive energy, taking the ball right at the Falcons 18-6 for the rest of the contest.

And the Lobos defense, which held Air Force to 40% shooting overall (20 of 50( and 29% shooting from three point range (7 of 24) was largely the cause of he win.

"We held them to 29 points both halves and we were able to make more free throws than they were, I thought we dominated the glass and I thought it was a great performance for our team."

UNM finished with all five starters in double figures, with Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Tony Snell all scoring 14 points. The Lobos outrebounded the falcons 39 to 24, including a ridiculous 13 to 4 advantage on offensive board that translated to a 14-2 advantage in second chance points.

UNM also dominated in the paint, outscoring AFA 30-16.

The Falcons, who trailed 42-39 at halftime, were paced by Mike Fitzgerald and Michael Lyons. Each scored a game-high 16 points, but were the only Falcons in double figures.

Alford said he was pleased with his team, which stands alone in the MWC standings with a 7-1 conference slate and already at the 20-win point with eight games left in the regular season.

"We played great and to get to the midpoint and be 7-1 and in first place all by ourselves and separating ourselves from a vast number of teams says a lot about our guys," said Alford. "Great game and I'm very pleased."

 

 

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