Dreamstyle Arena — aka The Pit has historically been a tough place for opponents to get a win, but that hasn't been the case for the University of New Mexico men's basketball team so far this season.
New Mexico (10-12, 4-6 MW) entered Tuesday evening's game against San Diego State with a losing record, 5-6, at home. And the Lobos started to fall behind early — another undesired trend — trailing by double digits within the first five minutes of the game.
The Lobos seemed to struggle finding its rhythm on either end of the floor, allowing Aztec shooters to get pretty much whatever they wanted. That lead to SDSU hitting 7-of-8 to start the game and manufacture a 16-6 lead just four minutes into the game.
UNM dug out of the hole with an 9-0 run, sparked by a 3-point basket from sophomore point guard Keith McGee and capped by a violent Carlton Bragg slam dunk to pull within 16-15 over about a three and a half minute stretch.
San Diego State continued to feed its 6-10 sophomore big man, Jalen McDaniels, and benefited from his athleticism and intelligence in attacking the Lobo zone.
New Mexico tied the game on a couple of occasions and even took a brief 24-22 lead before McDaniels dominance eventually won out over the first 20 minutes.
The SDSU sophomore collected a game-high 17 points in the first half, but was the only Aztec to hit more than two shots. That, coupled with a spirited effort by McGee to register 14 points during that time frame allowed the Lobos to stay close and his team trailed just 37-36 at the break.
Corey Manigault also made efficient use of his time — collecting seven points in just nine minutes of play thanks to a willingness to attack the rim.
Some people have criticized the players and coaching staff for not displaying an ability to make in-game or halftime adjustments. But Saturday's second half looked like a test the UNM squad had been studying to pass for several weeks.
New Mexico flustered the Aztecs into taking some rushed shots and forced a couple of separate scoring droughts that appeared to be turning points in the game.
McGee connected on a couple of early attempts in the second half to tie the game — the second of which made the score 41-41 less than two minutes into the frame.
Senior guard Anthony Mathis drew a foul on an attempt from behind the 3-point line and calmly swished all three free throw attempts to create the largest Lobo lead of the game to that point.
On the next trip down the floor, Mathis was able to get a clean look from beyond the arc and drilled the shot for a 47-41 lead.
UNM enjoyed success at the other end of the floor too — bottled up McDaniels and company while it made a stretch run. Four and a half minutes elapsed between made baskets for SDSU and by the time McDaniels quelled a 16-0 Lobos run with a jumper at the 14 minute mark, the Aztecs were down 55-41.
As the clock continued ticking away, the large disparity in second-half points continued to grow. The Aztecs recorded just 12 points over the first 12 minutes of the new period and trailed the Lobos by 20 as a result after Vance Jackson sank a pair of free throws to give UNM a 69-49 lead with 8:09 left to play.
New Mexico protected the lead and was able to play from ahead while getting freshman Drue Drinnon some valuable minutes. He had eight points in just 17 minutes of play and showed a penchant from breaking down his defender and using his body to drive the lane and use it to shield the ball from his opponent.
UNM gave up some consolation points toward the end of the game, but coasted to an 83-70 victory in a game that probably wasn't even as close as the final score indicated.
McGee was the leading scorer for UNM with 19 points, followed by 17 from Mathis and 11 from sophomore Makuach Maluach.
The win helped erase the memory of losing five of the last six games and was probably an important one to pick up in advance of facing Nevada on the road this Saturday.
That game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. tip time in Reno, Nevada as the Wolf Pack will be looking to avenge an embarrassing 85-58 loss to UNM back on Jan. 5.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.