The win gets the Lobos closer to the peak of the Mountain West standings
The UNM men’s basketball team gifted Lobo fans a sweet 78-73 victory, and a season sweep, over Boise State on Valentine’s Day.
The Lobos pulled off a win over the Broncos, closing the gap between the two teams. With the win, New Mexico is now only half a game behind Boise State, who slipped to second place in the Mountain West with the loss, behind the Colorado State Rams.
Thanks to a persistent defense and several Lobos stepping up in the offensive side of the affair, New Mexico improved to 16-10 overall, and 9-5 in the Mountain West.
Head coach Craig Neal said he can see his team is maturing, and that he was pleased with what he saw on Tuesday night.
Jordan Hunter looks to make a pass within the defense of the Boise State Broncos on Tuesday Feb 14th at Wisepies Arena at the Pit.
“Very good win. I thought our guys were terrific,” Neal said. “I thought they played with a lot of energy and effort. They were really in-tune with what we were trying to do.”
The Lobos opened up the night with a jumper from redshirt junior guard Elijah Brown followed by a layup by senior center Obij Aget.
Although the game got close several times, the Lobos never found themselves trailing. The defense was a big reason why they never found themselves looking up at the Broncos, as they were able to limit Boise State’s shot selection, particularly in the first period.
At the 11:30 mark, it was a 1-point game with the Lobos leading 16-15. New Mexico then managed to leave the Broncos stuck at 15 points for a nearly 7-minute stretch. By then, the Lobos had already amassed 27 points.
Offensively, Aget led the team during the first half with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Junior guard Chandler Hutchison led Boise State with 14.
The Lobos led by as much as 17 points a few minutes into the second period. However, their comfortable lead diminished a few times, giving the Broncos some hope of catching up.
Forward Damien Jefferson, who finished the night with 14 points, said the key to staying on top was remaining confident.
“We were never nervous. We just have to keep fighting,” he said. “Coach (Neal) always tells us that we are going to have some let ups but we just have to keep fighting.”
With 19 seconds remaining, it was only a 3-point game with New Mexico leading 76-73. Brown managed to get to the free throw line and made both shots to give New Mexico a little more breathing room.
After a slow start, Brown managed to finish with 27 points, with 13 of those coming from the charity stripe.
“You’ve got to give Elijah credit, because he really struggled early and then he made some big shots,” Neal said.
For the Broncos, it was Hutchison who took control on offense. He gathered 31 points on 13-for 26 shooting.
The Lobos are not too far away from being on top of the conference standings, though they are part of a bunched group all looking up at the Rams — the top four programs in the standings are all within a game of each other.
“I just told them that if they want it, they have to go get it. I think they played with that hunger,” Neal said. “I think they understand where they are.... It’s right there. They’ve worked their way back into contention.”
Isabel Gonzalez is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She mainly covers men’s soccer and basketball. She can be reached at sports @dailylobo.com or on Twitter @cisabelg.