#19 New Mexico 68—Dayton 66
News for Lobo men’s basketball coach Steve Alford − well, it’s not really news.
“Steve’s lucky,” said Dayton head coach Brian Gregory.
For what? Need you even ask?
During Friday’s game at The Pit, the lone senior snapped out of his recent shooting funk, swishing two pivotal 3-pointers in the midst of a 12-2 second-half run by the Flyers. The shots stymied a Flyer surge and sent a sellout crowd into a euphoric trance. In turn, the UNM men’s basketball team piggybacked Martinez and pulled out a 68-66 victory as an ear-splitting crowd of 14,586 tensely watched the Lobos’ slight lead evaporate.
“We take a three-point lead and then leave him open in the corner, which is hard to believe,” Gregory said. “He’s done that all year long. … He does all the things that you need to do to win. There isn’t a coach in the country that wouldn’t take him.”
The Lobos led by no more than eight throughout the game, but had enough in the tank to get by Dayton, which was previously 3-0 in games decided by five points or less.
In the end, the Flyers, dependent on a barrage of 3-pointers, didn’t shoot well enough — a season-low 33.9 percent from the field — to steal a rare road victory in The Pit, where the Lobos have now won 19 consecutive games
Dayton’s Marcus Johnson had an opportunity to trim the deficit to two in the waning moments of the game but missed an uncontested 3-pointer from the left corner.
Meanwhile, the Lobos, who finished 26-of-43 from the free-throw line, made enough freebies down the stretch to secure their 14th nonconference win. The Lobos will travel to San Diego State for their Mountain West Conference opener on Tuesday.
Despite out-rebounding UNM 43-32 — a superlative that usually ensures the Flyers of victory, since they were previously 8-0 when doing so — fell by the wayside, tarnishing a previously unblemished record.
“We haven’t been out-rebounded like this all year. We haven’t turned the ball over like this all year,” Alford said. “There was two big, bad things we did and yet we still found a way to win. That’s what’s amazing about this young group. I keep laughing about it. They just don’t know how to do this. They haven’t experienced, and yet they just come up with big play after big play.”
The Flyers, however, did make it interesting, scrapping back from down eight and taking a brief lead.
Back-to-back buckets by London Warren, at the heels of consecutive 3-pointers from Mickey Perry and Marcus Johnson, highlighted a 12-2 run by the Flyers, giving them their first lead, 37-36, with 13:52 to go in the game.
Then an electrifying, should’ve-shattered-the-backboard dunk by Dayton’s Chris Wright forced Alford to signal for timeout as the Flyers seemed poised to pull away from the Lobos.
That never happened, though.
Wright, who checked in at 14.8 points per contest, wasn’t assertive enough offensively and scored just eight points.
At the other end, Martinez, who was just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc in his last three games, didn’t shy away from taking the defining shots.
Out of the timeout, Martinez drained a huge 3-pointer, only to come down again and add another game-changing 3-point dagger less than a minute later, which reclaimed the lead for the Lobos.
“At that point in the game, we needed some big shots,” said Martinez, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from the 3-point line. “They went into zone, and I think they got mismatched. I had the center on me on my side. Darington (Hobson) swung it to me, and it kind of went off me. He swung it right back, and it went down. It was a huge, huge bucket for us.”
Three Lobos hit double-digits. Hobson had 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to go along with five steals. Dairese Gary finished with a team-high 18 points.
The Flyers were led by Chris Johnson, who hit a number of clutch shots, including one fall-away 3-pointer late the game which breathed renewed life into the possibility of a Flyer comeback. Nobody else for Dayton scored in double figures.