In a battle between a potent offense and a stout defense, New Mexico’s defense won the day.
The No. 19 Lobo men held Boise State, one of the best statistical teams in the Mountain West Conference, to a season low point total in their 60-50 victory at The Pit Saturday night.
The Broncos have not scored that low since Dec. 5 when they lost at Utah 76-55. UNM (22-4, 9-2 MWC) maintains a half-game lead in the league standings over Colorado State, which improved to 21-4, 8-2 after beating Air Force 89-86.
Every other team has at least five losses in league play.
Junior guard Tony Snell drives to the basket against Boise State at The Pit on Saturday. The Lobos went on to win 60-50 to retain first place in the Mountain West Conference. UNM leads Colorado State by ½ a game in the standings and will visit the Rams on Saturday. See full story on Back Page.
“This game was tough because Colorado State was tied with us and we are a game ahead of them,” said senior guard Jamal Fenton, who, along with junior forward Chad Adams, matched a school-record mark of 102 career victories Saturday.
Boise State averaged 74.9 points per game heading into the contest, shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. UNM forced the Broncos offense to 37 percent from the field and just 25 percent from beyond the arc. Cameron Bairstow had the most difficult assignment.
UNM’s junior forward guarded Boise State guard Jeff Elorriaga, the league’s top 3-point shooter. Bairstow kept pace with Elorriaga throughout the night, limiting the sharpshooter to one trey on nine attempts.
Bairstow did the job on the offensive end as well, scoring a team-high 16 points. He made five of his eight shots from the field and added another six points from the foul line.
“It was very different from what I am used to,” Bairstow said, referring to his assignment on Elorriaga. “I was fine if I was in front of him, but at the end they started setting up plays where he would get some shots off. I thought I was doing a decent job at it.”
The Lobos managed another victory overcoming a low-shooting effort. UNM was 34.7 percent from the field (17 of 49), making just six second-half shots in 22 attempts. Fenton accountedfor three of those six second-half field goals, all three pointers.
He finished with 11 points, playing 23 minutes off the bench. Through the season’s 26 games, UNM has shot 41.4 percent, its lowest mark in 51 years.
Even when the Lobos haven’t shot well, they’ve still found ways to win. During the 1961-62 season, UNM shot 37.4 percent and finished the year 6-20. Saturday’s win is the team’s eighth this year when shooting under 40 percent.
“It was a gutty performance,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said. “We’re tired. We’re beat up. I knew it was going to be a very, very difficult game for us. The defensive performance: That was their lowest output of the year and this is a very good offensive team — probably the best statistical offensive team in the league.”
For the first 13 minutes, junior guards Tony Snell and Kendall Williams accounted for nearly all of UNM’s offense, scoring 18 of the first 19 points. They finished with 12 points and 10 points, respectively. Bairstow sparked the offense in the first half’s later minutes by scoring nine points.
UNM held a 29-23 halftime lead and remained at least a point ahead of the Broncos throughout the second half. Boise State trailed 49-46 with five minutes remaining before its shooting dried up. UNM held the Broncos scoreless over four and a half minutes while building a 55-46 lead. Boise State’s final four points came in the last 46 seconds, all from Derrick Marks.
With 19 points, he was the Broncos’ only double-digit scorer. Free-throw shooting worked to UNM’s advantage. The Lobos, who made 19 of 25 free throws, took 15 more attempts than the Broncos. Boise State was 5 of 10 from the line.
“They do a good job of that,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said, referring to the Lobos. “They execute their offense. They put foul pressure on you. They’re disciplined. They’re just a rock-solid team is what I would say about that.”
Sophomore center Alex Kirk had just six points but pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds. The Lobos will get some much needed time off this week. They do not have a Wednesday game, but will return to the court Saturday for a road game at Colorado State.
Alford said the players will return to practice Tuesday after a couple of days off to recuperate.
“It’s just been a long stretch between our bye weeks, and we’re just glad it comes at this point, because we have got to get healthy,” he said. “Our bigs are tired. So it comes at a really good time.”