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Lobos, Slow at Outset, Accelerate Past North Dakota

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Lobos Rout UND in Final Non-League Game

It didn’t come quite as easily as expected, but another lopsided victory did materialize for the New Mexico men’s basketball team Saturday.

There wasn’t even a Las Vegas betting line for the Lobos’ game against North Dakota on Saturday in the Pit. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. But unlike nearly every other nonconference opponent the Lobos have played this season in the Pit, UND (6-9) made this one interesting.

For a half.

Jan. 14
UNM at Wyoming, 1:30 p.m. TV: The mtn. Radio: KKOB-AM (770)

The result was an 85-57 New Mexico (14-2) blowout, its 12th straight victory. It was the final nonconference game of the season for the Lobos, who open Mountain West Conference play at Wyoming this coming Saturday.

“I’m really proud of the guys. You go through a 16-game nonleague schedule and you have a lot to deal with,” said UNM coach Steve Alford. “I really appreciate the focus that this team has given, and now we get a little bit of a break. The guys need it, (and) the coaches need it.”

The Lobos, playing without injured starting freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood, looked choppy in the early going against UND – a team from the six-team Great West Conference that lost its nickname and mascot (formerly Fighting Sioux) as of Jan. 1.

UNM’s first-half woes probably had as much to do with the afternoon affair and the unheralded opposition as with the absence of Greenwood. North Dakota is 329th of 344 teams in the Ratings Percentage Index computer rankings.

But UND, coached by former Alford assistant Brian Jones, hung tough despite starting 7-of-22 from the floor with nine turnovers in the first 16 minutes.

The Lobos, meanwhile, had six early turnovers and missed a pair of open dunks. One of the missed slams, by sophomore Tony Snell, led to a breakaway by North Dakota’s Troy Huff to cut the New Mexico lead to 37-31 with just more than a minute left in the half.

“North Dakota plays hard,” Alford said. “They played very physical to start the game, which is a great credit to them, a great credit to their staff. And they’ve been on the road. They’ve played at Kansas, so we knew they weren’t going to be intimidated. I didn’t think we played particularly bad. We scored 41 points in the first half.”

The Lobos scored the final four points of the half, then got up 49-34 early in the second half after Snell and Jamal Fenton hit 3s – Snell’s being a four-point play. Then UND came back again. A Snell air ball led to another North Dakota fast break and a Huff 3 to make it 49-39. But that was that.

The Lobos used a 17-1 blitz during the next six minutes – led by two Kendall Williams field goals – and the count ballooned to 66-40.

New Mexico won eight of its nine nonconference home games this season, losing only to New Mexico State. Of the wins, seven came by at least 16 points and six by at least 24.

Williams said it’s been a bit difficult to get fired up for all the blowouts, but it’s the team’s job to do so.

“It was hard, to be completely honest,” said Williams, who hit three 3s in the game’s first five minutes on his way to a team-high 21 points and six assists. “No disrespect to this opponent or anybody we’ve played, because you do have to get up for every game. But with it being an early game, maybe our legs weren’t into it (at the outset). But I don’t think we’ll have that issue in conference. We have a lot of good teams to face.”

Fenton, starting for Greenwood, had 11 points, six assists and no turnovers. Demetrius Walker came off the bench for 12 points, five boards and two assists, but committed five turnovers. Senior Drew Gordon had his ninth double-double of the year with 10 points and 10 boards.

Huff, a gritty, 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, led UND with a game-high 22 points and eight rebounds.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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