Winning on the road continued to present challenges for the University of New Mexico men's basketball team, as the Lobos were unable to close things out in Colorado against the Air Force Academy on Saturday.
New Mexico (12-14, 7-6 MW) was without the services of senior Joe Furstinger, whose inside presence was probably something the Lobos could have used — especially in the second half.
Furstinger was serving a one-game suspension by the Mountain West for an unsportsmanlike act as time expired in a 73-71 loss to Boise State on Tuesday. The senior seemed to take ownership of the mistake, issuing an apology via Twitter to the Lobos and the opposing team — and specifically the player, Marcus Dickinson, he shoved at the end of the game.
"It was a split-second decision I wanted to take back as soon as I did it. I embarrassed myself, my family and my team," he said in the tweet. "Losing the game was painful but there is no excuse for what I did. I will learn from this and I am sorry to all of those I have disappointed."
Even in Furstinger's absence, the Lobos were able to establish early control in the matchup. Senior Sam Logwood and freshman Makuach Maluach combined to score the first 18 UNM points of the game.
Logwood opened the scoring in the game with a pair of free throws and Maluach capped the strong opening for the duo with a 3-point basket that put the Lobos up 18-9 with 11:30 left in the first half.
New Mexico stretched the lead to 11 points on four separate occasions, but Air Force was able to tighten things up after Falcon guard Sid Tomes connected on a 3-point attempt on the teams final possession of the half to draw within 53-46 on the scoreboard.
Both teams committed eight first-half turnovers, but UNM was able to gain the advantage thanks to some excellent shooting — especially from beyond the arc. New Mexico shot 58.6 percent from the field in the opening frame — including going 60 percent from deep and banging home nine 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes of play.
The Lobos even secured an early edge on the boards. They out-rebounded the Falcons by a margin of 16-11, but things were a much different story in the second half.
Air Force made 15 layups in the second half — which was four more than the total shots UNM was able to put in the hoop for the rest of the game. The Falcons also threw down five dunks in the second half as they met little to no interior resistance.
New Mexico continued to struggle turning over the ball and could not keep its opponent out of the lane. Air Force converted 17 New Mexico turnovers into 22 points and held a 56-26 advantage in points scored in the paint for the game.
And the rebounding advantage — completely flip-flopped. Air Force crushed UNM 22-8 on the boards in the second half as the Falcons' double-digit deficit turned into a double-digit lead.
Air Force went on a 29-14 run to start the second half to seize a 77-67 bulge after Keaton Van Soelon made a dunk with 7:33 left in the game.
After falling behind by 10 points again, Lobo junior guard Anthony Mathis stepped up to knock down five consecutive free throws to pull within 84-79 with at the 5:18 mark, but that was as close as UNM would get.
The Falcons enjoyed their largest lead of the game, 12 points, with one minute to play and closed things out for a 100-92 home victory.
Maluach led all scorers with 26 points as the Lobos received double-digit scoring performances from six players. Senior guard Antino Jackson recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists.
But it wasn't enough to overcome the balance scoring attack of the Falcons and their second-half run. Sophomore forward Ryan Swan was the leading point-getter for Air Force with 17 points to help his squad improve to 4-7 in the conference and a 10-13 record overall.
New Mexico will return to Albuquerque to host Utah State in its "Lobos Love Pink" game on Valentine's Day. The Feb. 14 matchup is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off tip and will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network and 770 KKOB-AM Lobo Radio Network.
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.