That big Dec. 27 showdown at Cincinnati won’t be a battle of unbeatens.
The No. 16 New Mexico men’s basketball team, one of the few remaining undefeated NCAA Division I teams, dropped its first contest of the 2012-13 season Saturday afternoon with a 70-65 loss to unranked South Dakota State. It snapped a 12-game winning streak since the season began.
Saturday’s game had all the makings of a trap game. It was sandwiched by consecutive rivalry games against New Mexico State last week and an upcoming road date against No. 11 Cincinnati, which is 11-0 after Saturday’s 68-58 win over Wright State.
On top of that, South Dakota State had travel issues were forced to drive to Albuquerque from an earlier road game in Nashville, Tenn.
“You can always look at those things, and we addressed that after the game,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said. “If that’s what happened, that’s a really soft mentality. … Those aren’t excuses. Two teams had to play tonight and one team was a lot more focused than the other on both ends of the floor.”
The Lobos shot 20 of 54 from the field — 8 of 24 from the 3-point line — and never found a rhythm. They trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, and South Dakota State stymied every second-half rally attempt. In a 6 1/2 minute stretch late in the game, nine UNM points all came on foul shots. Making matters worse, the Lobos missed five free throws in seven trips to the line over that period.
For the game, UNM was 17 of 24 on free throw attempts.
“They’re one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country. We did catch a break,” South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy
A change in the regular starting lineup had an impact on that lack of rhythm, Alford said. Starting junior guard Kendall Williams and senior forward Chad Adams did not start Saturday for disciplinary reasons. Junior forward Cameron Bairstow and freshman guard Cleveland Thomas started in their place.
Both Williams and Adams arrived to The Pit late for the game, resulting in the disciplinary actions, Alford said.
“I have no idea how that happens,” Alford said. “If you’re a believer in Santa Claus, I hope they get some alarm clocks.”
While they did not start, both players were on the court for significant time. Adams saw 25 minutes on the floor Saturday while Williams, who sees more playing time than any other Lobo, played 34 minutes. He led UNM in scoring with 21 points, becoming the 30th UNM player to reach 1,000 career points.
“Coach has his rules and disciplines, and Chad and I didn’t follow them,” Williams said, declining to take any questions on the issue. “As far as the loss goes, most of it goes on my hands and some on Chad’s for not keeping it consistent. We just have to move on, and I take a lot of blame for it, both on and off the court.”
UNM junior guard Tony Snell joined Williams in double-figure scoring with 13 points.
Nate Wolters was the best player on the floor. The heavily scouted senior point guard from South Dakota State led the Jackrabbits’ offensive netting 28 points. He hit nine of his 15 field goals, three more than any other player on either team, and made 9 of 11 from the foul line.
Wolters also had seven assists, helping three other players reach double figures. Guard Chad White added 13 points, while forward Jordan Dykestra and guard Brayden Carlson scored 10 apiece.
“He’s good. He made some tough shots, some off-balance shots. ” said Williams, who spent several minutes guarding Wolters. “I think when we did a good job on him, he was still able to be allusive on enough.”
UNM was also out-rebounded for the first time this season. The Lobos finished with 28 boards, 20 on the defensive end. South Dakota State pulled down 36 rebounds, 29 defensively.
South Dakota State finished 24 of 50 on field goals, 9 of 25 on 3-pointers, and 13 of 15 from the foul line.