The University of New Mexico men's basketball team won for the fourth time in its last five tries, knocking off San Diego State in dramatic fashion at Dreamstyle Arena Saturday night.
With the score all knotted up, senior transfer Antino Jackson, on what proved to be the game-winner, made a jump shot to complete an impressive come-from-behind Lobo victory, overcoming a 13-point deficit to defeat the Aztecs by a score of 79-75.
New Mexico improved to 10-11 on the season and 5-3 in Mountain West play, while San Diego State fell to 3-4 in conference and an 11-7 overall record.
UNM scored the first five points of the game, but San Diego State came storming back to claim its first lead at 7-5 at the 15:59 mark.
The Aztecs used another 8-0 spurt to take control of the game and started to impose their will in the post, moving out in front of the Lobos by a count of 20-13.
New Mexico struggled to defend the paint for most of the first half, and the Aztecs took advantage — boasting a shooting percentage of over 70 percent before finally cooling off a bit.
SDSU ended up with a 34-18 advantage in points scored in the paint and out-rebounded the Lobos by a margin of 40-34.
Lobo junior guard Anthony Mathis led all scorers at the half with 15 points, but it was SDSU that enjoyed a 48-38 lead at the break.
Head coach Paul Weir said the speech at halftime was not a positive one, but the players responded and made the necessary adjustments in the second half.
Weir said the team followed one of its worst defensive halves, by perhaps its best defensive half. The head coach said he thought they were more successful at keeping the ball out of the hands of Devin Watson — the SDSU guard was limited to just two shot attempts in the second half.
He said the team did a much better job at closing out and contesting shots. Those adjustments, and perhaps some tired legs as the game progressed, resulted in the Aztecs' shooting percentage to dip down to 30.8 percent in the second half.
And after the Lobos trailed by at 13 points in the game, they finally started chipping away at the deficit. UNM guards Jackson and Chris McNeal connected on a pair of 3-pointers to draw within 55-49 of the Aztecs with a little less than 15 minutes remaining in the game.
Jackson made another deep one a few minutes later to cut the lead to four, but SDSU's Jordan Shakel answered on the following possession to push the advantage back to 60-53.
New Mexico was able to make it a single-digit contest on a few occasions over the next several minutes but couldn't quite get over the hump.
The Lobos squandered the benefit of putting the Aztecs in the bonus early, missing the front end of multiple 1-and-1 free throw chances.
San Diego State was a perfect 10-for-10 from the line before finally missing its first attempt from the charity stripe. But it worked out for the Aztecs, as they drew a loose-ball foul and went right back to the line. Forward Malik Pope tacked on another pair of free throws and added another one on the next possession to stretch the SDSU lead to 73-66 with five minutes left.
But the Lobos executed well down the stretch, perhaps drawing on the experience they have picked up being in similar positions in previous contests.
"There are 'finish' signs all over this building," Weir said. "When I got here, that was one of the things we talked about — we want to finish."
And finish they did — as the team ratcheted up the defensive intensity and surrendered just a single basket the rest of the way.
Mathis buried another 3-ball, and the Lobos started improving at the line to get back into striking distance.
Freshman Makuach Maluach had a opportunity to square things up, but Jackson buried one from beyond the arc the next trip down the court to put New Mexico back on top 75-73 with just under three minutes to play.
Pope threw down an emphatic dunk to tie the score again, making with 75-75. The squads traded missed 3-point attempts, and UNM called timeout after advancing the ball into the front court with about 22 seconds remaining.
UNM had a couple of options with Mathis and Jackson both having a hot hand but elected to put the ball in the hands of the senior transfer — and he delivered.
Jackson stumbled near the top of the key and almost lost the ball, but recovered to dribble, create some separation and rise to stick a go-ahead jumper with 22.6 seconds left.
The guard said there is a lot of trust between the players on the team and credited his teammates for remaining poised in crunch time. Jackson said the defense and rebounding the basketball were important keys to success.
And the team still had to make a stop in order to finish the job.
Lobo senior Joe Furstinger secured the rebound after Watson was unable to make his potential game-tying attempt. Furstinger sank both of his free throw attempts to seal the victory, and the Lobos emerged with the 79-75 win.
Furstinger ended with 12 points and was one of four Lobos who finished with double-digit scoring. Jackson had a game-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, knocking down six 3-pointers along the way to help led the team to victory.
Weir said although Jackson's shot was huge, the biggest thing he saw on the stat sheet was his zero turnovers. The Lobos created 12 turnovers, which only committed five turnovers as a team for the entire game.
This was the team's fourth win in its last five games, building off its recent road victory over UNLV.
New Mexico sits alone in third place in the conference standing and will shoot for a third straight win when it hosts Colorado State on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.