LARAMIE, Wyo. — No Hugh Greenwood at all? No Drew Gordon for nearly an entire half? No Tony Snell scoring binge?
No problem for a New Mexico men’s basketball team that is on a tear.
On Saturday, the Lobos broke away from pesky Wyoming midway through the second half on the way to an impressive 72-62 victory in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.
“Tony had an off scoring night, Drew never got in rhythm and we don’t play Hugh; so, that’s three starters,” said UNM coach Steve Alford, whose team won its 13th straight game. “But we really did a lot of good things. I’ve been really pleased with the effort we had. I didn’t think we had particularly smart effort in the first half, but we were much more smart in the second half.”
The Lobos (15-2, 1-0 MWC) were without freshman point guard Greenwood, who had started 13 straight games but has missed the past two with an ankle sprain. Senior post Gordon got into early foul trouble, played just seven minutes in the first half and was held to eight points and five rebounds for the entire game. On top of that, sophomore guard Snell — the team’s leading scorer — started the game with an air ball and finished just 1-for-3 from the floor.
That would appear to be a recipe for certain defeat in a place where the Lobos typically struggle. But that was far from the case for this deep squad. Alford just kept bringing different faces off the bench and playing different combinations. And most of them clicked.
“The key, I think, was our bench,” said junior Jamal Fenton, who started and had 13 points and two assists in 22 minutes. “They were in our ear the whole game, just yelling at us and giving us energy.”
And scoring. The Lobos bench had 22 points compared with Wyoming getting just four.
There were four ties and three lead changes in the first half. Wyoming had the momentum until Fenton came up with a huge play. The Pokes’ Larry Nance Jr. appeared to have an easy layup that would have put Wyoming up 25-22, but Fenton came from behind, stole the ball and led a fast break the other way. Teammate Chad Adams hit a jumper on the play to start a 7-0 New Mexico run, and the Lobos never trailed again.
UNM built the margin to 34-27 before Wyoming’s Paco Cruz closed the first half with a 3, and Leonard Washington opened the second half with a layup to cut the count to 34-32.
The game was tied 37-37 and again at 44-44 with 14:37 left after a 3-pointer by Wyoming’s Luke Martinez. Then it got sloppy. Neither team scored during the next four minutes. Both committed a flurry of turnovers and blocked shots.
Gordon eventually settled down the Lobos with a jumper to ignite a 9-0 UNM run. After Martinez hit a jumper with 7:15 left, Phillip McDonald made back-to-back 3s during an 8-0 Lobos burst to make it 61-46. The 17-2 run spanned 10 minutes as the Cowboys had trouble even getting a shot off.
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said getting Gordon into foul trouble and shutting down Snell might have backfired.
“We had a situation in Denver a month ago, and were playing a great ballgame and thought we had a great mindset because their center got in foul trouble the way we were defending,” Shyatt said. “But the next guy came in and hurt us. And that might be what happened tonight. You’ve got a 1,000-point (career) scorer, McDonald, (who) comes in and knocks down a couple of 3s.”
McDonald, a starter for three years until this season, had eight points in 20 minutes.
“I’m a senior, and coach has been telling me I have to step up my leadership,” McDonald said. “Plays like that are helping the team, and helping my leadership, as well.”
Kendall Williams led the Lobos with 14 points and five assists but had five turnovers.