STEVENS: Lobos Gut Out 97-87 win over Aggies in Las Cruces
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/17/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 17, 2009

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By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

LAS CRUCES -- Really, it was almost a perfect victory for Lobo coach Steve Alford. His Lobos escaped Las Cruces with a dramatic, come-from-behind 97-87 win over the Aggies and he gets to go back to The Pit and work on one of his true loves of basketball -- defense.

The Lobos ran to a 19-point 55-36 lead in the second half by shooting lights out, then allowed New Mexico State to climb up by four by shooting lights out, before the Lobos put themselves one game away from an Aggie sweep with a 10-point win in the Pan American Center.

There is no question that many aspects of this UNM team surfaced in the hardcourt war in Cruces. The Lobos looked smooth, poised, talented, deep -- and very young.

"We go from up 19 to down four on the road and still fight back to get a win," said Alford. "That speaks volumes for the type of guys I have in that locker room. There are a lot of teams that would have folded."

The Lobos gunned their way to a 52-36 halftime lead shooting 64.5 percent from the floor. UNM was up 59-43 with 16:33 to play before the Aggies used a series of defensive stops, a few treys, a few layups, and new-found energy to grab a 71-67 lead with ten minutes to play. NMSU had outscored UNM 28-to-8.

The Aggies' run might have pushed the Lobos up against the ropes, but there was still some fight in this pack and the Lobos still had Roman Martinez.

The UNM senior hit back-to-back treys to tie the game at 73-all. Those buckets seemed to take the fire out of the Aggies' run. NMSU never led again as UNM drifted to the non-conference win.

"That's why he's Ro," said Alford. "He got the team on his back. He just kept fighting."

Martinez had 24 points and nine rebounds for UNM, but the senior definitely wasn't alone in carrying the load. Phillip McDonald scored 27 points, Darington Hobson scored 17 and Dairese Gary scored 14.

Will Brown came off the bench and got extended minutes in the second half when A.J. Hardeman slipped into foul trouble. Brown scored six points and added seven rebounds, but more importantly became a defensive factor in the paint.

"I thought Wil came up with big play after big play," said Alford. "I thought his minutes in the second half were a huge key." Alford called a couple of timeouts to slow down the Aggies' run. When asked what he did in the huddle, Alford said, "I yelled a lot. That's so the young guys will understand coach yelling when we're not doing much defensively."

At the half, Alford said he told his Lobos, "we're probably not going to shoot 64 percent in the second half. We're going to win this because we guard in the second half. We didn't do that."

The Aggies were led by Jahmar Young with 26 points. He made 14-of-16 free throws. NMSU's Jonathan Gibson scored 17, Hernst Laroche had 15, and Hamidu Rahman had 14. UNM shot 49.2 percent for the game and NMSU shot 44.6 percent. UNM shot 35.3 percent in the second half.

"I don't have any qualms at all, offensively," said Alford, who saw his Lobos go to 2-0 on the season. "Offensively, we were as good as I could ask for."

Martinez was the target of the Aggies' student section much of the night. "I heard the razzing," said the El Paso product. "I love it. It's all part of the game."

Martinez gathered his teammates several times during the NMSU rally. "I told them we had to weather the storm because they are a team that scores in bunches," he said. "It was important for us to hit some big shots."

Which is exactly what Martinez did - with some help from his friends.

Sr. Roman Martinez

Second Half

The Lobos took a 52-36 lead at the half and raised it quickly to 55-36 on a McDonald 3-pointer on the baseline.

NMSU's Young put some life into the quiet Pan American crowd by racing to two layups and adding fouls shots on both plays. That cut UNM's lead to 59-49 with 15:42 to play.

A long bomb by Gibson at the 13:50 mark pulled the Aggies to 59-57. The Aggies were on a 14-0 run that McDonald ended with a trey to produce a 62-57 Lobo lead. The Aggies led 71-67 at the 10:00 mark and 73-70 at 9:13, but the Lobos energy on defense had returned and the Aggies' energy seemed to be fading.

Martinez then tossed in his two bombs to tie the game 73-all with 8:51 to go. A key series was Young driving on Martinez and getting his shot blocked by the Lobo. Gary followed with a power drive down the lane. He flipped in the shot and added a point from the charity toss: UNM 78-73.

The Aggies were hurt again at 5:05 when Gary came out of a pile with the ball, drove strong and was pounded to the floor by Kelly Merker. The intentional foul put UNM up 81-74, and in possession of the ball. The Lobos made enough shots, stops and free throws down the stretch to cruise to the 97-87 final.

First Half

The Lobos got five points from McDonald leading into the first media timeout at 15:27. The Lobo sophomore hit a jumper from the right baseline and added a 3-pointer from the left baseline to give UNM an 18-14 lead. Martinez also had scored four points at that point for UNM -- two from the line and two from the field. The Aggies had thrown a zone at UNM, but the Lobos were moving the ball well, finding holes, and making the shots.

The Lobos got a tip underneath from Martinez on a Nate Garth miss. An Aggie turnover led to another McDonald trey, this time from the right wing. The Aggies were down 19-10 and Minzies called a timeout. NMSU came out to get a trey from Gordo Castillo followed by a jumper from UNM's McDonald and the Lobos had a 21-13 lead at the 11:51 break.

The Lobos continued to slowly pull away and at the 7:16 media break were up 31-20. Key buckets in that stretch were a fast-break hoop from Martinez to Gary and 3-pointers by Martinez and freshman Jamal Fenton.

The Aggies got an old fashioned 3-point play from 6-foot-11 Hamidu Rahman before McDonald drilled another 3-pointer to make it 36-23. Rahman got a dunk, but Hobson threw in a long 3-pointer and added a jump shot to kick UNM up 41-25. The Aggies got a breakaway layup to cut their gap to 41-27 at the 3:47 media break.

The Aggies probably were hoping to cut UNM's lead to single digits going into the half. They got to 45-34. before Gary scored underneath to raise UNM's lead to 47-34. Martinez was fouled at 1:36 and tossed in one free throw to make it 48-34. The Lobos were back up 14 points.

NMSU turned the ball over at 1:23 on a blocking foul. UNM's Chad Adams scored in close on a pass from Garth and UNM was up 50-34. The Aggies made a short jumper and Garth flew through the lane for a layup to hand his Lobos a fat 16-point lead at the half -- 52-36.

McDonald led UNM with 15 first-half points. He was followed by Hobson and Martinez with 10 points each. Martinez added seven rebounds. NMSU was led by Rahman with 12 points. The Lobos won the board battle 20-to-13. UNM shot a sizzling 64.5 percent from the floor to NMSU's 46.4 percent. The Lobos were 7-of-12 from the 3-point line to 3-of-12 for NMSU.