Feb. 11, 2009
Wednesday: Lobos 76, Air Force 66
Up Next: Lobos at Brigham Young, 8 p.m. Tuesday
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- It's not that difficult to put a positive spin on the University of New Mexico's 76-66 semi-scary escape from the Air Force Academy Wednesday night. The Falcons played the game of the season and the Lobos still won by 10 points.
But it wasn't easy for the Lobos, wasn't always pretty, and it wasn't a sure thing until the final five minutes of play. The Lobos had been holding opponents to 39.6 percent shooting on the season, but the Falcons finished at 52.4 percent. Fortunately for UNM, the Lobos shot 55 percent overall and a blistering 70.6 percent in the second half.
The Falcons fell behind 15-0 to start the game, but surprised the Lobos by rallying to a 37-33 halftime lead and trailed by a single point, 48-47, with 11:29 to play.
Senior Chad Toppert then hit a 3-pointer to push UNM up 51-47. A jumper at 9:02 by freshman Phillip McDonald made it 54-47. Another 3-pointer by McDonald followed by a trey by Roman Martinez and a layup by Tony Danridge put UNM up 63-52 with 5:43 to play.
The Lobos lead stayed in double figures until Air Force cut it to 73-64 with 54 seconds to play, but by that time the Falcons' bid for an upset had lost its fire. The win bumped UNM to 16-9 on the season and 7-3 in the Mountain West Conference. Air Force dropped to 9-14 and 0-10 in league play.
The Lobos next game is Tuesday at Brigham Young and UNM's hopes for the MWC regular-season crown probably couldn't have survived a loss at Air Force.
The three UNM seniors - Danridge, Toppert and Daniel Faris - were held to five points in the first half, all by Danridge. They rallied to combine for 27 points in the second half. Danridge finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. He was joined in double figures by junior Roman Martinez with 20 points, which ties his season high.
The Lobo win was aided by 16 Air Force turnovers. The Falcons beat UNM on the boards 26-22. The Lobos went 23-of-36 from the free throw line while Air Force was 14-of-18. The 3-point numbers were close with UNM hitting 9-of-19 and Air Force going 8-of-18. Both teams made 22 field goals on the night.
Matt Holland scored 20 points and Andrew Henke had 19 for the Falcons, who are 7-8 at Clune Arena this season after going 68-6 at home over the previous five seasons.
UNM coach Steve Alford now has 40 wins in his first two seasons at UNM and has a good chance to pass Dave Bliss (42) and Norm Ellenberger (43), who also broke the 40-game barrier in their first two campaigns as Lobos.
The Lobos have won five of their past six games heading to Provo, Utah. UNM beat BYU 81-62 on Jan. 17 in The Pit.