Stevens: First Half Dooms Lobos in 60-46 Loss To Saint Louis

Dec. 31, 2012

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New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - At Saint Louis

Monday: Saint Louis 60, New Mexico 46
Up Next: Jan. 9, UNLV at Lobos - The Pit

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It was a Lobo game Coach Steve Alford obviously wanted to see, but maybe it wasn't a game he really needed to see as the finish line of a great year.

The New Mexico coach watched his Lobos turn the ball over 16 times in the first half, fall into a 20-point, 33-13 halftime hole, and eventually fall 60-46 Monday night to Saint Louis.

Alford got ejected at the 9:26 mark of the second half after requesting a timeout that one official did not seem willing to give at the point of the request. Alford and the ref exchanged a few words and Alford got the first "T." He said a few more words and was sent to the locker room with his second "T."

It was Alford's first ejection as a Lobo.

"To get a double technical, I had to literally call timeout three times," said Alford. Alford said the ref "finally gave me the timeout," and Alford used the break to point out a foul that was not called. He got technical No. 1. Alford said he then told the ref it was "still a foul," and got the second "T."

"I've been worse than that in 22 seasons and never got a technical," said Alford. "I apologize. I was not trying to get a technical or get ejected."

In some ways, Alford's Lobo team never came out of the locker room - especially in the first half when sloppy play pushed the Lobos into a huge 33-13 deficit against a motivated Billikens' team looking for its seventh consecutive win.

"This was just a bad 20 minutes on the road," said Alford. "It was just a very poor first half. I'll take responsibility. We obviously weren't ready to play and not being ready to play falls on my shoulders. There were too many guys, to me, who weren't ready to play the game.

"I don't think I've ever had a team have more turnovers than points (first half). You just can't turn the ball over 16 times like we did in the first half."

For sure, the first half was the killer. UNM, now 13-2, had its lowest point total of the season (13) and the 16 first-half turnovers created a double whammy. Those lost possessions took away Lobo points and represented 22 points-off-turnovers for the Billikens (10-3).

The Lobos made a spirited run early in the second half and cut Saint Louis' lead to 38-29 on a drive by Kendall Williams. UNM was on a 16-5 run. A few minutes later Saint Louis was up 52-31 and Craig Neal, UNM's Associate Head Coach, was on the bench trying to get the Lobos to form another rally.

It never came.

"Our guys fought in the second half and we got back to doing the things we had been doing all season long," said Alford.

"I like our fight and our grit in the second half. But we can't start on the road against a very good basketball team and get down 20 points. I give Saint Louis credit. They did a lot of positive things."

The good news about the first half was the bad news probably couldn't get much worse. This 13-point half was about as bad a start as the Lobos could envision.

"They really pressured us," said Alford. "We really wanted to get the ball inside to Alex (Kirk) and we had a hard time doing that because we couldn't get open on the wings."

The 14-point loss was not what the Lobos were looking for especially after posting a dramatic one-point upset at No. 8 Cincinnati. That win returned UNM to the Top 25. The loss at Saint Louis does not help that ranking. The Lobos next play host to the UNLV Rebels Jan. 9 in The Pit in a Mountain West opener.

The Lobos finished the game with 21 turnovers that led to 30 Saint Louis points. UNM won the glass battle 36-32. The Lobos shot a chilly 31 percent from the field with two players in double figures: Williams with 15 and Alex Kirk with 13 points and eight boards.

Saint Louis shot 40 percent from the floor with Cory Remekun pacing the Billikens with a career-high 15 points.

You couldn't help but think the Lobos would come out for the second half and shock the Billikens early for a simple and obvious reason: The Billikens had not seen the real Lobos in the first half

UNM crumbled into its 20-point halftime hole and you can only guess what Coach Alford had to say at the half.

The Lobos came out and hit Saint Louis hard. UNM quickly cut Saint Louis' lead to 12 - 35-23. The Billikens had not yet adjusted to UNM's increase in movement and aggression.

"We started moving the ball well," said Alford. "I thought there was an extra step in what we were doing. I think the guys just came out (in the second half) and played. The second 20 was much more like what we've been doing."

A 16-5 Williams-fueled run made it 38-29 before Saint Louis got an old-fashion 3-point play to slide up 41-29. Williams cut it back down to 41-31 with a runner in the lane.

The Lobos were getting back into the game by attacking. Saint Louis was rolling its offense around the perimeter and playing passive. The Billikens had a chance to attack an aggressive UNM defense and possibly aid their upset bid by reaching the free-throw line. But would they do it?

The Billikens started to go inside. That strategy helped Saint Louis go up 47-31. An 8-0 Billikens' run was aided by the double technical on Alford that sent the UNM coach to the locker room with 9:26 to play. Saint Louis surged ahead 52-31 and UNM's Neal had the duty of trying to pull UNM out of a 21-point hole.

The Lobos might have had enough stuff - and time - to pull out of one 20-point hole. They couldn't do it the second time. The Lobos cut their hole to 56-44 - 12 points - but Saint Louis got into the double bonus at the line and finished their upset.