"This was a good game and a tough bounce back game for us because of the low prep," said Coach Steve Alford. "I thought we did some good things. I was upset I thought we were a little flat at the beginning of the game; the new lineup might have had something to do with that. I thought after about the first five minutes we woke up and started playing to the level that we needed to play."
The Lobos started slow, possibly due to a starting line-up change made by Alford right before the game. Sophomore transfer Demitrius Walker got the late call to start for UNM due to a one-game suspension for sophomore guard Kendall Williams. UMKC (7-7) was able to match the sluggish Lobos early on and even took a 7-6 lead five minutes into the game, much to the displeasure of the Pit crowd.
But New Mexico got a spark when McDonald came in at the 13:53 mark of the first half. The senior immediately got the offense going with a thunderous dunk that awoke the quiet, concerned Lobo crowd and ignited a 12-2 run that gave UNM a 25-11 advantage that the Roos would never recover from.
McDonald, who now has 1,005 points as a Lobo, went go on to score 11 of the team's final 13 points of the first half to give the Lobos a 40-24 halftime lead.
"I felt like a weight just got lifted off my shoulders," said McDonald, who has been hobbled by injuries, including a nagging left ankle injury and most recently a concussion. "I felt very relieved and like I was back on my game. I felt like I was last year and the year before that. Injuries have really taken a toll on my body. But now I'm starting to feel better and you can tell."
The Lobos were even on rebounds for the game with the Roos as each team managed 34 rebounds. Alford attributed this to UMKC's small line-up – made necessary by an illness to the Roos' starting center Brad Reid.
Facing a smaller perimeter shooting-focused line-up, UNM's need to switch defenders was a challenge against UMKC.
"Our bigs were away from the basket and we really depended on our guards to rebound and I don't think our guards did a very good job rebounding tonight," Alford said. "I liked how we defended it. They basically played five guards, they don't really play with the post guys so we didn't want to change who we were so we continued to play two bigs most of the night."
Fellow senior Drew Gordon missed out on a double-double but scored 18 points and had a game-high six rebounds for the game. Junior guard Jamal Fenton came off the bench to add 16 points and a team-high eight assists. Along with Gordon, Fenton electrified the crowd with several drives and an epic alley-oop for a dunk with just under four minutes left in the game.
"We started slow - we just came out a little flat," Gordon said. "Coach kind of had to get into us to motivate us and hype us up. But once we did, things started rolling and it started looking up. Demetrius did a great job of passing the ball and finding the open man in transition and kicking the ball around the horn. It's looking good. The passing is a lot crisper than it was at the beginning of the season."
Despite the slow start Thursday, Alford said the he was happy with his team.
"This has been a long stretch and I really appreciate the guy's efforts," he said. "To win 8 in a row and a lot of those games being away from home means a lot to this basketball team."
New Mexico will take a short break for the holiday and then come back together Sunday night for a practice to begin to prepare for its game next Wednesday at New Mexico State.
The Lobos and Aggies tip-off at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be televised live on Aggievision through Comcast or on Altitude 2 (Ch. 682 on DirectTV) or on tape delay at 11 p.m. on Fox Sports Arizona (DirecTV Ch. 686 or Dish Ch. 415).