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Fresno State’s dynamic duo too much for Lobos

Lobo basketball fans will be more than happy to see Braxton Huggins and Deshon Taylor’s NCAA eligibility expire in about a month.

The pair of fifth-year senior guards combined for 45 points and eight 3-pointers to lead the Fresno State Bulldogs to a gritty 81-73 victory over the UNM Lobos in Dreamstyle Arena on Saturday evening.

“It sucks to lose,” said Lobos coach Paul Weir. “I don’t know what else to say. I feel sick about it. The effort is there. The work ethic is there.

“I told the guys now, we ran into two great basketball players. They looked it. They showed it. And they won them a game on the road. … Huggins and Taylor are two fifth-year guards. They’re all-conference and they’re terrific. You have to tip your cap to them. I thought we did some things on them that I will take back, but I’d say 60 percent of what they did was just terrific basketball on their part.”

UNM fell to 11-14 overall, 5-8 in Mountain West play and is now 7-7 in the Pit this season. Fresno State remains in a second-place tie in the league standings at 19-6 (10-3 MWC).

The explosion of Fresno State’s senior guards wasted a career night for Lobo wing Vance Jackson, who had 30 points, hit 4-of-6 3-pointers, was 10-of-11 from the free throw line and grabbed eight rebounds.

Taylor scored a game-high 26 points, aided by 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range (at least three were five or more feet beyond the arc) and 7-of-9 from the free throw line. In the past six games vs. UNM, the preseason All-Mountain West selection has averaged 21.2 points per game and hit 43 free throws, either killing UNM from the outside or drawing fouls with dribble penetration.

Huggins, the former New Mexico State Aggie who transferred to Fresno State after Weir took the Lobos job in the spring of 2017, scored all 19 of his points on Saturday in the second half, including 15 in the final 8:27 of the game.

“We can shoot the ball,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said. “Their zone gave us some trouble in the first half, but our foul trouble gave us more problems. I thought we found something that would work. Deshon got into the lane and kicked it out. We really moved the ball and we took good shots, and fortunately we knocked them down.”

The Lobos had Fresno State playing on its heels much of the game due to foul trouble, but were never quite able to take full advantage.

UNM closed the first half on a 7-0 run with plenty of momentum in the final 1:53 thanks to a Keith McGee dunk in the lane, a Jackson jab step to the right and step-back 3-pointer with 1:04 left, and then a pair of Jackson free throws for a 38-35 lead at the break.

And when the second half started and the Lobos scored the first five points, Hutson took a timeout just 45 seconds in the half with the Lobos leading 43-35 and the announced Pit crowd of 12,494 buzzing.

That was when the game changed.

New Mexico’s Corey Manigault drives to the basket as Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (4) and Deshon Taylor defend. Taylor and Huggins were front and center as the Bulldogs beat the Lobos at Dreamstyle Arena. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

“They called a timeout, whatever it was — a minute and a half in, and they drilled us from there,” said Weir.

The Bulldogs came out of the break, and Taylor avoided a shot clock violation with a deep 3-pointer. On the ensuing possession, Lobo senior guard Anthony Mathis had his 3-pointer blocked by Huggins, who raced to the other end of the floor for a layup. Mathis inexplicably fouled him in frustration from behind without a play at the ball, giving Huggins a 3-point play and jump starting what to that point had been a scoreless night for the player who entered the game scoring more than 20 in four consecutive games.

Fresno State went on a 12-0 run, and while the Lobos did lead again later in the half, it was never the same feel in the Pit as in the opening minute of the second half.

Fresno State’s Nate Grimes, who had 19 points and 19 rebounds in the first meeting between the two teams, had just 7 points and three rebounds on Saturday.

“We did exactly what we wanted to do on him,” Weir said.

The Lobos outrebounded Fresno Sate 40-33 and held the Bulldogs to 41 percent shooting, but allowed 14 3-pointers.

Corey Manigault added 16 points for UNM, continuing his strong play of late in the post.

The Lobos shot 38 percent in the game, and while they had a respectable 75.7 percent shooting clip from the free throw line, five of their missed free throws were in the final 6:36 of the game.

Box score: Fresno State 81, New Mexico 73

UP NEXT: Wednesday, UNM at Utah State, 9 p.m., ESPNU, 770 AM/94.5 FM

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