Feb. 20, 2010
Saturday: Lobos 59, Air Force 56
Tuesday: Lobos at Colorado State, 8 p.m.
On The Air: The Mtn.; 770-AM KKOB
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Maybe there was too much on the line for the Lobos. Maybe they couldn't take seriously an Air Force team they beat by 23 at Air Force. Maybe it was Falcons concentrating and executing at a high level and Lobos going through the motions and expecting a sold-out Pit to carry them to a victory.
"Sometimes you just have to take your hat off to the team you're playing," said Lobo coach Steve Alford after his Lobos' 59-56 thriller in The Pit Saturday.
In a word: "Whew!" The Lobos (25-3, 11-2 MWC) found a way to win once again, but not before they almost found a way to lose to the last-place team in the Mountain West Conference.
The Lobos almost found a way to lose by allowing the Falcons to gun from the floor at a 51.2 clip, 58.3 percent in the second half.
The Lobos almost found a way to lose by allowing the Falcons to come up with clutch shots down the stretch and push the Lobos up against an unexpected wall in The Pit.
The Lobos found a way to win at the end by getting the ball into the hands of juniors Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson. Hobson tipped in his own miss at 1:39 to pull UNM out of a 54-53 hole. Hobson got a layup with 16 seconds to play on a pass from Gary that pulled UNM out of a 56-55 hole. "Dairese made a good pass," said Hobson.
The Lobos squeezed that 57-56 lead into the 59-56 final when Gary hit two free throws with :03 to play. It was a wild finish and an unexpected finish for the No. 12/15 ranked Lobos against an Air Force team that fell to 1-11 (MWC) and 9-16 overall.
"You have to win games like this," said Alford, whose Lobos set a school mark with 11 consecutive league wins. "We weren't at our best, but we found a way to win and I want our team to know how proud I am of them.
"They got the stop they wanted in the last minute and they got the score they needed."
The Falcons had a couple of opportunities to slip away from the Lobos in the final 1:30. Air Force turned the ball over at 1:13 and after Hobson's tip to put the Lobos up 57-56, the Falcons got two clean looks under the bucket.
Darington Hobson -- 17
Roman Martinez -- 10
Dairese Gary -- 7
Will Brown -- 7
A.J. Hardeman -- 6
Phillip McDonald -- 5
Nate Garth -- 5
Chad Adams -- 2
It was a huge win for the Lobos because it keeps them in first place in the MWC and should preserve their lofty ranking going into Tuesday's game at Colorado State. UNM's 25-3 record also is the best ever in 107 seasons of Lobo basketball. The most wins in a UNM season is 28, set in 1995-96.
"We're the better team," said Alford referring to UNM's record and ranking. "But on this particular day the better team wasn't playing as well as the opponent."
The Lobos got 17 points, eight boards and five assists from Hobson. Roman Martinez had 10 points and hit a huge trey at the 6:23 mark to tie the game at 49-all. Air Force got 17 points from Grant Parker and 11 from Michael Lyons.
"(Coach) told us we should have lost that game but we found a way to win," said Martinez. "It was a big win for us.
"We started off sluggish. Every team is going to come after us and give it their best shot."
Said Alford: "I didn't like our start. I think our guys had a good mindset, but we took a lot of quick, long threes and we can't do that. We relied on the 3-point shot first inside of going inside first."
The Lobos ran to a 34-27 lead at the 16:53 mark of the second half, but Air Force was up 45-44 with 10:40 to play. It was nip and tuck the rest of the way in.
"We weren't ready to play from the jump," said Hobson.
Second Half - Air Force 34, Lobos 31
Tempo was the key in the first half. The Falcons had it. The Lobos didn't. The Lobos almost changed the tempo early in the second half and got the Falcons' moving a bit. UNM went up 34-27. But Air Force made a few shots, regained control of the tempo, and trailed only 36-34 going into the media break at 15:23.
Gary put UNM up 36-32 on a power drive, but Air Force wouldn't go away. The Falcons tied it at 41-all and slipped into leads of 45-44 and 47-46.
The Falcons scratched out those leads overcoming 3-pointers by Phillip McDonald and Martinez that twice put the Falcons into three-point holes. At the 8:41 timeout, Air Force was up 47-46. At a 7:33 break, it was still 47-46.
UNM came out of that huddle to a Fenton miss from long range. The Falcons' Zach Bohannon drilled a 16-footer to push Air Force up 49-46 and Alford called time with 6:26 to go. His Lobos needed to up the intensity at both ends of the court. UNM came out and got a baseline trey from Martinez: 49-all. The Pit came to its feet.
At the final media break of the second half at 3:29, Air Force had a 52-49 lead, but Gary was coming out of the huddle to shoot two. The junior had been fouled on a power drive. Air Force's Grant Parker had just missed a wide-open trey and a chance to push his team up 55-49. Parker hit a baseline trey earlier to produce that 52-49 Falcon lead.
Gary made both his free shots: 52-51. The Lobos threw a three-quarter press at Air Force. The Falcons worked an in-bounds play into a layup attempt by Avery Merriex, who was fouled by McDonald. The Falcon made them both: 54-51.
UNM's McDonald used a head fake and a drive to can a 6-footer: 54-53. Falcon Mike McLain missed on a drive, intimidated by Hardeman. UNM had the ball and Alford called time with 1:54 to play -- down 54-53.
Hobson then put UNM up 55-54. He drove to his left, missed a short jumper, but reached high with a big left hand to tap in his miss: 55-54. "I just got a hand on it," said Hobson. Air Force came down and turned it over with 1:12 to play, a bad pass by Parker.
McDonald missed a clean look at a trey on the left baseline, but the rebound scramble kept the ball in UNM's hands. Air Force called time with 55.6 ticks to go and still down 55-54. UNM had a full 35 seconds on the shot clock.
UNM came out of the huddle and Martinez missed a too-long and maybe too-quick trey. Hobson ran down the rebound and was bumped by a Falcon. The Lobo was called for a walk.
Air Force came down and grabbed a 56-55 lead on a power drive by Parker. Air Force was up 56-55. Alford called a timeout with 23.5 seconds on the game clock and on the shot clock. The Falcons were maybe one defensive stop away from one of the greatest upsets in their program's history.
They didn't get it. Gary drove strong to his right, hung in the air, and found Hobson in the paint. The Lobo junior kissed one off the glass and UNM was up 57-56. Air Force managed to get off two hurried shots from under the glass. They missed both and the loose ball went out and was handed over to the Lobos.
Gary was fouled with 2.5 seconds to go. Gary's first shot rolled around and fell: 58-56. The second shot was clean: 59-56. The Falcons never got a shot off at the end.
First Half -- Lobos 28, Air Force 22
The Lobos' biggest lead of the half came off a Nate Garth trey in the final minute. That sounds good, but that bomb put the Lobos up by six to form the 28-22 halftime score.
The Falcon's Princeton offense controlled the tempo most of the way and even pushed Air Force into a 20-16 lead before UNM finished the half on 12-2 run.
The Lobos shot 33.3 percent from the field to 41.2 percent for Air Force. The Lobos did their best work on drives which pushed them to the line where the Lobos went 14-of-19. Air Force was 6-of-6 from the stripe. UNM was led by Hobson with nine first-half points and Brown with seven. Air Force won the board battle, 13-10.
The teams worked to a 5-all tie at the first media timeout at 15:55. Air Force was up 14-10 at the 11:45 break and up 20-18 at the 3:56 mark. The Lobos were 4-of-14 from the floor at that point; 28.6 percent. Air Force was 7-of-16; 43.8 percent.
Garth's trey that put UNM up 28-22 came off a pass from Hobson.