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Brown leads Lobos to fourth-consecutive win; UNM tops Utah State

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Joe Furstinger, left, and Jordan Hunter, third from left, help up UNM junior guard Elijah Brown, second from left, after he fell during the second half of Tuesday night’s win over Utah State in the Pit. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Elijah Brown knows the only way Mountain West teams have been able to keep him from scoring has been when he’s not on the court.

So, after foul trouble limited him to 15 minutes of play in a Jan. 4 loss at Utah State, the Lobos’ junior guard made sure to stay on the floor in Tuesday’s rematch. Brown continued his recent scoring tear, pouring in 24 points to lead the Lobos to a 74-61 win over the visiting Aggies in front of an announced Pit crowd of 10,698.

“I just think his poise,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said of Brown’s ability to lead the Lobos in recent games. “He’s playing with a calmness. I don’t think he’s trying to force the issue. He had maybe one bad play. He’s going to have some of those. But he’s been real efficient and he’s letting the game come to him like he has before — he’s using screens. And I think experience and maturity. Since conference play started, I think he’s been the player we knew he was going to be.”

The win was the fourth straight for UNM (13-8, 6-3 Mountain West), which also became the first team in the league to reach six wins in conference play. Utah State (8-11) fell to 2-6 in league play.

Brown, who was named Monday the Mountain West Player of the Week, has averaged 22.8 points per game since the loss at Utah State.

Tuesday, the Lobos’ defense held Utah State scoreless over a 6-minute, 7-second stretch in the second half. Their offense went on a 10-0 scoring run in that span, extending a 54-49 lead to 64-49 with 3:27 left in the game.

USU, which hit 10 3-pointers in a Jan. 4 win over UNM and led the league in 3-point shooting entering Tuesday’s game, was just 6-of-17 from beyond the arc on Tuesday night.

“I think we’ve been working on urgency to the catch,” Neal said of the 3-point defense. “I think we’ve been really working on our hands — getting deflections, getting high hands, contesting all shots. And I think our guys have made it a habit.”

Aggies coach Tim Duryea agreed. Tuesday was more about the Lobos defense than just an off night shooting gor his guys.

“I think it was a product of their defense,” Duryea said. “They were pushing out on us, so we drove the ball and got the ball around the rim a few times, but we have to do a better job of converting when we get fouled.”

The Aggies were just 9-of-17 (52.9 percent) from the free throw line.

While Utah State cut the lead to 66-60, it would get no closer as UNM iced the game at the free throw line, hitting its final 10 from the charity stripe over the final 2:42.

Brown was 6-of-6 from the line and the Lobos were a perfect 17-of-17 on the night. It is the most made free throws without a miss by any Mountain West team this season and the most ever for UNM in a conference game (the all-time record was 21-of-21 vs. UConn on Nov. 19, 2013, in a non-conference win at the Paradise Jam tournament).

UNM shot 50 percent from the field and scored 18 points off 12 USU turnovers.

The Aggies got 17 points from freshman Koby McEwen and 14 more from senior Jalen Moore.

With his team holding a 40-37 lead, Brown started to heat up. Moore lost him on an inbounds play for a split second, giving the Lobo junior enough time to pull the trigger on the first of two consecutive made 3-pointers. Brown would go on to score 10 consecutive Lobo points in the stretch.

A pair of Connor MacDougall free throws with 11:35 left put UNM up 52-41.

MacDougall, who tied a career-high with 10 points in 10 minutes of action, was playing for the first time since suffering a concussion in a Nov. 7 loss to Nevada.

Tim Williams, who had 30 points in the Jan. 4 loss in Logan, Utah, had 13 points Tuesday and was the Lobos’ third double-digit scorer.

The Lobos play at Nevada on Saturday.

COACHES VS. CANCER: Coaches for both teams, like others around the nation, wore sneakers Tuesday as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Week promotion to increase awareness for the American Cancer Society.

UNM coaches also wore gold laces in their sneakers and associate head coach Chris Harriman, whose son Avery has cancer, tweeted a picture of his shoes and his son and wrote, “Wearing the sneakers with gold laces tonight for our game to support my hero & the fight against Childhood Cancer. #AveryStrong #LoveYou”

NOTES: Junior Xavier Adams was not on the bench Tuesday game as he was recovering from Monday surgery on his torn ACL suffered when these two teams met Jan. 4, but he was in the arena. Adams watched the game away from the bench area for safety just for this game. …

UNM’s four-game win streak is its longest of the season and just its third of four or more games since the 2013-14 season. …

MacDougall, the Lobos’ 6-foot-9 sophomore power forward, checked in the game with 4:35 left in the first half, his first game action since the Jan. 7 concussion. MacDougall made his presence felt early, scoring a 3-point play after just 15 seconds on the court and adding another later in the half.


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