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Saturday, December 20, 2014

With OT win at Boise State, UNM has first 3-0 Mountain West Conference record

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By Katherine Jones / The Idaho Statesman / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Junior guard Tony Snell takes possession of the ball in the final seconds of overtime to clinch UNM’s 79-74 win at Boise State. UNM is now 3-0 in MWC play for the first time in school history.

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Any team with an undefeated home record has cause to fear the New Mexico men’s basketball team. Four times this season, the No. 19-ranked Lobos have traveled to a venue where the home team hadn’t lost.

Each time, UNM prevailed.

On Wednesday night, Boise State became the latest victim to endure its first home loss at UNM’s hand. The Lobos captured a 79-74 overtime victory at the Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho, where the Broncos were 7-0 this year.

“It’s definitely good having a road win,” said UNM junior guard Tony Snell, who scored a team-high 22 points. “This conference is hard to play at their house. It’s a big-time win.”

New Mexico also gave Indiana State, New Mexico State and Cincinnati their first home defeats. In fact, the Lobos’ Dec. 27 win in Cincinnati was the Bearcats’ first setback of any kind this year.

“It’s the fourth time this year we’ve gone on the road to an undefeated place and won,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said, praising Boise State’s performance. “That tells you about the toughness and fight our guys have. This is a good win for us.”

For the first time since becoming a Mountain West Conference charter member in 1999, UNM recorded three straight wins to open league play. The Lobos improved their overall mark to 16-2, a feat that hasn’t been witnessed since 1998-99. They also have five wins in six games against teams with a top-50 RPI.

Boise State’s potent offense, which leads the Mountain West in several categories, did not disappoint. The Broncos (13-3, 1-1 MWC) had five players reach double-figure scoring, with sophomore guard Derrick Marks’ 27 points leading the charge. Junior forward Ryan Watkins posted a Boise State double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Mikey Thompson also scored 12 points, followed by junior guard Jeff Elorriaga with 11 and sophomore guard Anthony Drmic with 10.

Led by Snell and his increasing aggressiveness, the Lobos countered with four double-figure scorers. Snell’s 22 points is his highest single-game total against an MWC foe. He was just five points from matching a career high. Snell connected on seven of his 12 field goal attempts, including 3 of 5 from the 3-point line.

UNM sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood added a spark despite dealing with flu-like symptoms. He finished with 15 points on 6 of 12 shooting, nailing three of his six attempts from the arc. With 55 seconds remaining, his driving layup tied the game at 63 apiece and forced overtime.

“I should have dunked it — I should have had my first dunk of the year,” Greenwood joked. “I just laid it in. I kind of hesitated. I looked ahead of me and it was wide open.”

Junior guard Kendall Williams returned from a one-game suspension and scored 11 points. He did not play Saturday against Fresno State after arriving late to a team meeting for the third time this season.

Boise State managed to contain UNM’s strong post play. Lobo sophomore center Alex Kirk had 10 points but just one field goal before fouling out in overtime. He was, however, 8-for-8 on foul shots. Bench post player Cameron Bairstow, who made every first-half shot he took against Fresno State, was held to two field goals and eight points (4-for-4 on free throws).

Both teams played tight throughout, exchanging 13 lead changes, tying 13 times and playing the first 20 minutes to a 37-all tie.

In overtime, UNM hit 3 of 5 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free-throw line, outscoring Boise State 16-11 in the extra session. Boise was 2 of 7 from the field in overtime.

“We do a pretty good job of making shots in overtime,” Alford said.

For the game, UNM was 23 of 57 on field goals (40.4 percent), 9 of 21 on 3-pointers (42.9 percent) and 24 of 31 on foul shots (77.4 percent). Boise State finished 25 of 58 from the field (43.1 percent), 9 of 20 from the arc (45 percent) and 15 of 21 from the line (71.4 percent).

“There’s just a lot of fight in these guys,” Alford said. “We talk about it all the time. When you’re on the road, you want to stay close. You want to be in the game in the first 10 minutes so that home team knows you’re there. We did that.”