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Aggies Dominate Inside, Give UNM Second Loss

By Mark Smith
Journal Staff Writer
    LAS CRUCES— Since the season's start, first-year University of New Mexico men's basketball coach Steve Alford has stressed the importance of defense.
    On Tuesday night, the Lobos were pretty solid defensively against New Mexico State. At the other end of the floor, however, UNM was simply offensive.
    It was also manhandled in the paint.
    In one of the uglier contests in the history of this heated intrastate rivalry, the Aggies beat the Lobos 71-62 in the Pan American Center before an announced crowd of 6,786.
    "I know our big guys got in foul trouble," said guard Chad Toppert, who had a game-high 20 points. "We were playing fairly small at the end, and that probably affected the rebounding side of it. We just have to go back and look at the tape, and see where we need to correct them for the next time."
    "Next time" might just be the worst part of this. These two have to do it all over again in a couple of weeks in Albuquerque in the schools' 200th meeting.
    Then again, it has to get better. For both teams.
    Make no mistake, outside of crashing the boards, the Aggies (4-6) did little well. The Lobos (7-2), however, did virtually nothing well.
    The teams evenly divided 38 turnovers and were a combined 43-of-106 (40.5 percent) from the floor— and that doesn't begin to tell the story. Most of the game was much worse than those final numbers.
    NMSU won the rebound battle 44-28 and had an 18-11 advantage on the offensive end. Aggies 6-foot-6 freshman forward Wendell McKines had a game-high 15 boards.
    "Rebounding, we knew it was an Achilles heel before the season, and in these two games it definitely flared up," said Alford, whose team lost 85-77 at Ole Miss on Saturday and was outrebounded by four in that one. "The difference this weekend were two of the things we knew we had major issues with, and that was; value of the ball and board play. And we got beat really bad on the boards in both games on this trip, and we turned the ball over 20 times (at Ole Miss) and 19 times (Tuesday)."
    The Aggies' shooting stats were spared after they finally started to click in the game's final 11 minutes. They had a 16-5 run that included 3s by Paris Carter and Jonathan Gibson to make it 55-41 with just less than six minutes left.
    Toppert was able to somewhat camouflage his team's horrendous outing on the offensive end with a 7-of-10 night, hitting 6-of-7 3s for a game-high 20 points.
    Outside of Toppert and senior Jamaal Smith— who piled up the points in mop-up time, including a steal and score with one second left while the Aggies were holding the ball and running out the clock— the rest of the Lobos were 8-of-37 from the field (21.6 percent). Smith, who had 17 points, was 6-of-8 from the floor. He and Toppert also hit all of the Lobos' 3-pointers, going a combined 8 of 9.
    The rest of the team was 0-for-11 behind the arc. Senior starting guard Darren Prentice missed four of those and went scoreless.
    "Shots aren't going to fall every night," Smith said. "And we've got to step up defensively or step up in other areas. Tonight we just got outrebounded ridiculously. We've got enough guys who can shoot the ball well, but our thing is to not go in there thinking we're going to knock down every shot we take. Guys are going to have off nights."
    With just three minutes left in the first half, the Ags led the snoozefest 20-13. At that point, NMSU was 6-of-22 from the field with 10 turnovers while New Mexico was 4-of-21 with nine turnovers.
    Smith came off the bench to score five points in a 7-0 run that tied the game at 20, and the Lobos eventually grabbed the lead before the Aggies got on top 28-26 at halftime.
    The anticipated duel between star senior wings J.R. Giddens and Justin Hawkins, which never materialized, looked like it might heat up in the second half. New Mexico's Giddens hit a jumper just 14 seconds into the half to tie the game. Those were his first two points of the night.
    After Aggies 6-11 senior Hatila Passos scored inside and hit a free throw and Chris Cole made a 3, Hawkins had a slam for his first points of the game. But Giddens would finish 2-of-10 for just four points and six rebounds; Hawkins had 12 points and six rebounds, but was 3-of-14 from the field.
    Hawkins entered the night averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game and had scored a combined 83 in his past three outings.
    Passos also had 12 points on Tuesday, while Cole had 11 and Gibson 10.
    UNM freshman Dairese Gary was the only other Lobo to even sniff a decent outing. He had nine points and a game-high eight assists against two turnovers, but hit just one field goal. The rest of the Lobos combined for just five assists.
    The Aggies were 21-of-30 at the line. The Lobos, who hammered the aggressive Aggies inside and foul late, were 12-of-15.
    Up next
    Saturday: San Diego at New Mexico, 1 p.m. Radio: KKOB-AM (770)