The University of New Mexico men's basketball team looked pretty good in California for at least one half when it faced Fresno State a couple of weeks ago, but saw the game slip away thanks to some lengthy scoring droughts and spotty play.
New Mexico (11-14, 5-8 MW) probably liked its chances if it could be more consistent this time around. The Lobos did, and held a led deep in the second half, but saw the same outcome duplicated when it fell to the Bulldogs 81-73 on Saturday night at Dreamstyle Arena aka The Pit.
The Lobos scored first in the game after junior transfer Corey Manigault got a layup to fall, but UNM fell behind early as both teams struggled to find its shot in the opening stages. New Mexico started just 2-of-11 from the field and trailed 10-4 a little over five minutes into the contest.
Fresno State was transparent in its desire to be one-dimensional on offense, firing off 3-pointers at an unprecedented rate. The Bulldogs shot more attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, 21, than it had in some games this season.
The steady diet of triples worked for much of the opening 20 minutes as the Bulldogs seized an eight point lead, 30-22, after New Williams buried Fresno State's sixth long-range shot of the half.
But New Mexico surged ahead on the scoreboard after rattling off the final seven points of the half to seize a 38-35 halftime advantage.
Deshon Taylor led the Bulldogs with 16 first-half points, but Vance Jackson erupted for a game-high 20 points in the opening frame — hitting three 3-pointers and going a perfect 7-of-7 from the foul line.
Braxton Huggins and Nate Grimes, a pair of Fresno State player who gave the Lobos fits in the first meeting, were held in check to that point — Grimes had two points, while Huggins was held scoreless, while being saddled with three personal fouls.
New Mexico forced a quick timeout just 53 seconds into the second half after Manigault recorded a layup and senior guard Anthony Mathis nailed a 3-pointer to give UNM a 42-35 cushion.
Things appeared to be going well, and the Lobos continued to do a solid job in the second half limiting Grimes, but the momentum following the timeout changed in a hurry.
The Lobos couldn't hold Huggins down any longer as the senior guard got a lather going and spearheaded a 12-0 Fresno State run that was capped by a Noah Blackwell 3-pointer in transition.
New Mexico reclaimed the lead on a pair of free throws by Manigault with 12:36 on the clock, which gave UNM a 51-50 edge. And things remained close — with the score being tied or a single-digit lead for the next several minutes until the Bulldogs broke through.
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Carlton Bragg gave a jab step and created enough separation to get a clean look and gave the Lobos a 57-55 lead when a smooth-looking jumper ripped through the net with 8:39 remaining.
Fresno State responded by connected on three straight 4-point attempts — three of which came off the hot hand of Braxton Huggins, who gave the Bulldogs a six-point lead, 67-61, about two minutes later.
The 3-point barrage shifted momentum back in the Bulldogs' favor, but Jackson brought the Lobos back to within two points when he hit from long range with 5:46 to play to make the score 67-65. Unfortunately for the Lobos, they only made one more shot the rest of the way.
Despite the inability to score down the stretch, a layup by Jackson with about three minutes remaining pulled his squad to within 71-70. But Fresno State got a couple of big buckets late when the points were at a premium and seemingly delivered a dagger when Williams drilled a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the game to go up by five.
If that wasn't enough to suck the energy out of the arena and make a comeback improbable at best, the Lobos removed all doubt by committing three turnovers down the stretch. The final one led to a breakaway jam from Taylor to punctuate the 81-73 Fresno State victory.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.