Stevens: Alford's Lobos Remain Undefeated -- Sweep NMSU Aggies

Dec. 19, 2012

Notes |  AP Photo Gallery 

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - On The Road

Wednesday: New Mexico Lobos 68, New Mexico State 63
Saturday: 12:30 p.m. - South Dakota State at Lobos - The Pit

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It wasn't exactly a first-round knockout. And it's fair to say that both the New Mexico Lobos and their hero of the night, Kendall Williams, had to come off the canvas in order to card the 68-63 decision over New Mexico State.

Williams actually was the first to hit the canvas/floor Wednesday night in the Aggie's Pan American Center. He rolled his right ankle at the 18:54 mark, grabbed it in obvious pain, and stayed down several minutes before hobbling to the UNM bench.

"I think it really scared him," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford.

It also didn't look like Williams would return. He did - in a big way.

Williams fueled an 11-0 first half run with nine points to help pull the Lobos out of an 11-point, 25-14 hole. "We got hit pretty quick in this game," said Alford. "But there was no panic, no anxiousness. This team just chipped away."

Williams ended the game with 24 points as the Lobos swept the Aggies and stayed undefeated on the year at 12-0. Williams tied his career high as a Lobo.

"That's what your best players do," Alford said of Williams. "Kendall was the best player on the court tonight, hands down. That happens a lot.

"He came back and did a terrific job of leading our team in a lot of ways. He was just active."

Williams went 7-of-12 from the field, 8-of-8 from the free-throw line and pulled down five boards.

Probably the Lobos wouldn't have beaten the Aggies on this night if Williams had stayed on the bench. But once again a whole lot of Lobos made key plays and key shots at critical times.

"I can't speak enough of our team," said Alford. "We just find ways to do it. I thought our defense was a key. You come into somebody's building and you hold them to 63 points and 38 percent shooting, you are doing a lot of good things."

The Aggies were able to hang with the Lobos most of the night thanks to a 10-of-17 effort (58.8 percent) from long range. The Aggies had seven players connect from long range with Kevin Aronis knocking in four.

"We wanted them to have to make jump shots and for a while it looked they might beat us by making jump shots," said Alford. "This was the best they shot it all year from back there."

When the Aggies were launching from afar, they were usually squared up to the basket, on balance and not always tightly defended. In the paint, the Aggies often were forcing up bad shots over a tough Lobo defense. UNM didn't exactly blister the nets at 41.1 percent but continued to make shots when shots were needed.

Seven points by Tony Snell helped push UNM into a 49-41 lead. When the Aggies scratched to 56-54, Hugh Greenwood banged in a trey and Alex Kirk added two free throws to hand UNM a 61-54 lead with 2:50 to play. That was a huge and timely surge by Lobos.

"That's what you have to have," said Alford of getting key baskets from different players. "We have a tough group, a solid group that understands winning. They just perform."

Williams was joined in double figures by Snell with 11 points. Cameron Bairstow muscled for nine points and seven boards. "Cam really stepped in when Alex got in foul trouble and Cam did a lot of good things," said Alford.

The Aggies won the board battle, 39-35. UNM went 16-of-21 at the free-throw line and NMSU went 11-of-20, but the Aggies missed several key free throws in the close of the second half. "You can't have that against a team like the Lobos," said Aggie Coach Marvin Menzies of his team's free-throw shooting.

Second Half: New Mexico Lobos 34, New Mexico State Aggies 31

At the 15:11 mark, UNM was still up by two - 41-39 off a Williams' driving layup off the glass in traffic. At the 11:29 break, seven points by Snell helped guide UNM into a 49-43 lead.

The Aggies' Kevin Aronis hit a trey and NMSU pulled to 49-46. Aggie Coach Marvin Menzies picked up a technical and Williams hit the two free throws: 51-46 in UNM's favor. Another Aronis trey made it 51-49 and NMSU had an 8-2 run. At a UNM timeout at 6:18, UNM was up 54-51 off a free throw and a jumper by Greenwood.

Lobo Coach Steve Alford watches the action Wednesday night in the NMSU Pan American Center.

Williams hit both ends of a one-and-one: 56-51 at 4:29. The Aggies scratched to 56-54, but a Greenwood trey followed by two free throws by Kirk gave UNM a 61-54 gap with 2:50 to play. That seven-point gap looked even bigger considering the Aggies had to defensively attack a Lobo team that was clutch at the free-throw line.

The Aggies had a shot to tighten the score, in possession of the ball and down 61-56. Watson turned it over and fouled Snell, who was looking at a breakaway. Snell hit one: 62-56. The Aggies' Mullings hit two free throws at 1:02: 62-58.

The Aggies needed a stop, but didn't get it as Snell penetrated the lane and dropped in a floater: 64-58. The Aggies missed a trey and Williams knocked down two more free throws at 26.7 and that 66-58 lead sealed it for UNM.

First Half: New Mexico Lobos 34, New Mexico State Aggies 32

It was a better start for the Aggies in Cruces than it was in The Pit. The Aggies were playing - and shooting - better at home. The Lobos did not play well in the first 12 minutes of the half falling behind by 11 points.

An 11-0 Lobo run fueled by nine points by Williams helped UNM scratch its way into a two-point halftime lead. In a way, it was a bonus run for the Lobos. For a while, it didn't look like Williams would be on the court much in the first half.

The Lobos got a scare at the 18:54 mark when Williams rolled his right ankle on defense and stayed down for several minutes before being guided to the UNM bench. He returned with under 14 minutes to play, but did not appear to be at full speed for several minutes.

NMSU used the three-ball to carry a 17-10 lead into the 11:45 media break. The Lobos had gone up 8-4 on a Chad Adams' trey, but an Aggie 3-pointer handed NMSU a 12-10 lead that they stretched to 17-10 going into that media stop.

The Aggies grabbed an 11-point lead at the 8:54 mark on a Watson trey that produced a 25-14 NMSU lead. The Aggies were 5-of-6 at that point. At the 7:51 break, NMSU was still up 25-14.

The Lobos then got a much-needed run - an 11-0 run in which Williams produced nine of the points and Greenwood added two points with a tip. The run was produced, in part, by better perimeter defense. The Aggies did not attempt a trey during that UNM run.

Williams, moving better late in the half, formed a 25-all tie with a jumper. The Aggies finally found a hole on the edge and a 3-pointer pushed NMSU up 28-25. NMSU had nine field goals at that point - six from long range.

At 3:09, Bairstow got fouled underneath and added a free throw after the layup to form a 28-28 tie. Another Williams' jumper produced a 30-30 tie. Bairstow had a chance to reclaim the lead for his team, but missed two free throws. The 7-5 Bhullar backed in on Bairstow for an easy layup and a 32-30 NMSU lead. Bairstow got even with a 12-foot jumper: 32-all.

An Aggie turnover led to a rare transition bucket for UNM and a Williams' layup with 44 seconds to play gave UNM its 34-32 halftime lead. Williams went 5-of-6 from the field in the first half and finished with 13 points. Bairstow fought his way to nine points. Tyrone Watson had nine points for NMSU and Bandja Sy had five boards.

The Aggies ended up going 6-of-7 from 3-point range with six Aggies knocking down treys. The Lobos shot 46.7 percent from the floor and NMSU shot 40.7 percent. UNM narrowly won the glass battle 17-to-16.