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Falcons flip script, get even with Lobo men at Air Force

Guard Jeremiah Francis III (11) and his New Mexico teammates fell to Air Force in a Wednesday afternoon rematch at Air Force Academy, Colo. (UNM Athletics photo)

The winning streak is over at one.

While the Lobos dominated down low Monday to end their losing streak and sneak out of the Mountain West cellar, on Wednesday the Air Force Falcons flew high and flipped the script in a 62-55 win in Clune Arena.

And after what was a complete team effort two days prior, the Lobos again were a one-man show with senior Makuach Maluach being the only UNM player to score in double digits with 20 points, his third consecutive 20-point game.

“I think that’s been a little bit of our season — it’s kind of been the one step forward, two steps back,” said UNM Lobos coach Paul Weir. “Whether it’s a particular individual player that you really feel like is starting to break out, it might be a side of the ball — offensively or defensively — it might be a particular phase of the game rebounding, free throw shooting, 3-point shooting, point guard play. It just feels like we’ve never been able to consistently get anything going besides him at a consistent level.”

The Lobos, after ending a five-game skid with Monday’s win over Air Force, fall to 6-14 overall and 2-14 in Mountain West play — again at the bottom of the 11-team standings. For Air Force (5-17, 3-15 MWC), the win snapped a 10-game losing streak.

Monday’s win for the Lobos was an inside job — outscoring the Falcons 44-32 in the paint, dishing 22 assists, seeing big men Valdir Manuel and Bayron Matos combine to shoot 13-of-14 and score 27 points all while staying disciplined enough to shoot only nine 3-pointers.

Wednesday, the much smaller Falcons dictated the terms of engagement, outscoring UNM 36-28 in the paint. UNM had just 10 assists to 21 turnovers, Matos and Manuel combined to take only six shots and score nine points and the cadets baited the Lobos into settling for 20 3-point shots (they made five).

“Obviously we hurt them in game one in the paint,” Maluach said. “So, you know, they just came in and doubled (the post players) today and they were just aggressive on the ball and … just kind of (made) it hard to find guys (in the post to get the ball to).”

Weir thought the change was more about personnel adjustments than scheme changes.

“They played different players. They had a different starting lineup a little more speed, a little more athleticism,” Weir said. “… The same kind of post touches and places that we were getting the ball on the floor (on Monday) offensively, we just didn’t quite get it there. And I thought their defensive intensity from game one to game two, I thought was the same. It was just their personnel in game two was more gifted, more athletic, and bothered us.”

Weir noted Air Force freshman guard Joseph Octave’s career-high 18 points in 17 minutes off the bench was the difference, especially after two points in four minutes Monday.

“When you’re on that bench, you can see what the defense is doing,” Octave said. “I saw they were playing (defense) really high and things like that. I knew I could take advantage of that — driving, cutting. They looked really tired at one point and I just kept (telling) the guys, ‘Keep playing fast. Keep playing fast.'”

BOX SCORE/SCORE BOOK: Air Force 62, New Mexico 55

UP NEXT: March 3, UNM at Colorado State, time TBD, (online), 770 AM/96.3 FM

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