March 21, 2011
Lobo Men's Basketball - National Invitation Tournament
Monday: Alabama 74, Lobos 67
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The handwriting probably was on the NIT wall when the New Mexico Lobos got what looked like a death sentence being dealt a road trip to a floor where the Alabama Crimson Tide had won 17 straight games.
Make that 18 straight. The Tide got on a second-half roll to pull out of a four-point halftime lead and end the Lobos' season 74-67 Monday night in Tuscaloosa.
"We knew this was going to be a difficult game," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "They aren't undefeated in this gym for no reason."
The Tide rolls on to an NIT quarterfinal battle hosting Miami. New Mexico, playing a tough road game without senior leader Dairese Gary, ends its season 22-13.
The Lobos played Alabama pretty much even in the first half, but the Tide's advantage inside, complemented by their intense defense pressure, proved to be too much for the young Lobos at a key stretch in the second half.
Oh, yeah, the Tide also shot 75 percent in the second half. "We tried to take away the paint and make them make jump shots<" said Alford.
Alabama used a dunk by Tony Mitchell to pull ahead 40-36 at the 14:44 mark of the second half. UNM pulled to 43-39 on an old-fashioned 3-point play by A.J. Hardeman. The Tide then ran off to a 66-48 lead with 5:19 to play.
The Tide made a mistake at that point trying to cruise to the win against a Lobo team that doesn't know how to roll over. UNM had a chance to pull to 74-70, but a trey by Alex Kirk missed and Alabama got the seven-point win.
"Our guys know that going through the motions is not an option," said Alford. "Our guys battled to the end."
The Tide ended shooting 53.3 percent to 37.9 percent for UNM. The Tide had a slight edge on the boards, 37-32, but UNM won the offensive board battle, 14-12. A lot of the game stats were close: 13 turnovers for Alabama, 12 for UNM; 3 blocks for both teams; seven steal for the Tide, six steals for UNM.
But the Tide shot well and often those shots were coming just a few inches from the Bama rim.
UNM got 18 points from Kendall Williams, 12 points from Phillip McDonald and 11 points and only four boards from Drew Gordon. Jamal Fenton, filling in for Gary, had six assists and two steals. A.J. Hardeman had nine points and five boards.
"I was very proud of their effort," said coach Alford. "We still win 22 games and make it to postseason. We kept things moving in a positive direction. Our freshman got to play in a lot of games this year. That's really important for next year."
Alabama got 23 points from Tony Mitchell, 20 from Trevor Releford and 14 from Charves Davis. Releford also had six assists and Mitchell had three steals.
Second Half: Alabama 44, Lobos 41
It was a good start for the Lobos in two ways: Alabama's Green picked up his third foul in the first minute and went to the bench; UNM's McDonald hit a trey to get back into the UNM offense.
The Tide then threw out a short run. An alley-oop dunk got the Tide's crowd rolling and got Alford calling for a timeout. Green came back in after about a two-minute sit and quickly posted up and threw down a dunk. Alabama was up 38-31.
The Tide definitely came out in the second half with more energy and more movement. They powered up 55-41. Fenton drove and finished to cut Bama's lead to 55-45. It was a good time for a Lobo run, down ten on the NIT road. UNM got a steal, but a McDonald miss lead to two Bama free throws and a 57-55 Tide lead.
Williams tossed in a long trey over a screen to keep UNM hanging around at 57-48. Bama then scored twice inside to go up 61-48. Green then powered inside for a reverse layup to go up 63-48. The Lobos were in trouble.
It got worse when Davis tossed in a 3-pointer at the 5:23 mark after a UNM turnover and the Tide was rolling at 66-48. UNM called time, down 18 points to a team that had never lost at home this season.
The Lobos battled to the end and cut Bama's lead to 73-67 with 23 ticks to go. But this hole was too deep to claw out of. Kirk had a nice look at a trey that could have cut Alabama's lead to 74-70. He missed. The Tide limped in for the 74-67 final.
First Half: Alabama 30, Lobos 26
The Lobos got off to a good start behind two treys by McDonald - one from the baseline, one from the right wing. The Lobo junior did not score again in the half. The Lobos' 6-0 lead turned into a 6-5 lead at the first media break.
McDonald' s treys seem to awaken Alabama's vaunted defense. The Tide raced to a 12-6 lead on a 12-0 run and UNM didn't score again until 11:43 when Kirk got open for an 18-footer off an inside-outside pass by Gordon.
It was the kind of Alabama run that Alford voiced concern about prior to the game. UNM weathered this Tide storm of points. Kirk's score brought the board to 12-8 and seemed to ignite the UNM offense.
Williams pushed the scoreboard lights in UNM's favor getting fouled on a drive and making two free throws: 12-10. The Lobos got baskets from Gordon, Snell and Fenton (a trey) to form a 17-all tie. Hardeman soared inside with a tip to create a 19-all tie. Gordon muscled in a shot from under the rim and UNM was up 21-19.
The Lobos' zone was forcing Alabama to look for points on the perimeter and the Tide's strength is not on the edge. Their power is inside and scoring off other team's mistakes.
A Lobo mistake, a cross-court pass, led to an Alabama dunk off a steal and a 25-23 Bama lead. UNM went back up off a Fenton free throw and a Gordon layup off a Williams' pass: 26-25. The Tide then scored inside off a power drive to go up 27-26. Alabama got a gift with ten seconds to go as a poorly-shot 3-pointer kissed off the glass and fell in the hole. The Tide carried a 30-26 lead into the half.