Lobos run over No. 11 Rebels 65-45

Trailing No. 11 UNLV at halftime on Saturday, the UNM men's basketball team turned up its vaunted defense in the second half and won going away 65-45 against the Rebels before a sold out crowd at The Pit and a regional audience on CBS-TV. The Lobos held Nevada-Las Vegas to 4-of-17 shooting in the second half while senior Drew Gordon exploded for a double-double with 27 points and 20 rebounds.

New Mexico (22-4, 8-2 Mountain West Conference) strengthened it's hold on first place in the MWC with a terrific second half effort that eclipsed a sluggish first half that saw the Lobos trail the seemingly faster, more aggressive Rebels, who fell to 22-6, 6-4 in the MWC.

"I couldn't be more happy with our basketball team," said head coach Steve Alford. "Our guys have been amazing. We still have a lot to do, a lot to prove. This race is far from over with. But you separate yourself from a good UNLV team by two games… I don't know if we're the best team in this league yet but there's no team in the last month that has guarded like we're guarding."

Gordon, who shot 13-of-20 with 16 defensive rebounds, became the first Lobo to post a 20-20 double-double since Jimmy Allen scored 20 points and pulled in 20 rebounds at New Mexico State in the 1976 season,. Tony Snell added 12 points and 5 assists just days after scoring zero against San Diego State and Demetrius Walker came off the bench to score nine points and three rebounds.

"That was probably my best game, and things were just falling for me," said Gordon.  "The basketball gods were good to me today. Vegas was a tough loss for us losing by 17. If we lose, it should be a dog fight, and with that game we gave up a little. Coming in to the Pit, it is a different environment and our fans were amazing today.  It helped us a lot at the end of the game when we got tired."

Tied with UNLV 38-38 at the 12:14 mark of the second half after a pair of Anthony Marshall free throws. New Mexico then found a sixth gear and went on a 16-1 run powered by Gordon, who scored eight points during the run including a pair of dunks that drove the decibel level in The Pit up to painful levels.

Snell came alive in the stretch as well, throwing down his own thunderous dunk and hitting a trey to drive the run. UNLV responded with a 5-0 run as Marshall hit a trey and a lay-up but answered with a 5-0 run to push the lead to 3:27 left in the game and scored the final six points of the game before students rushed the court.

"It was a tough hard fought game in the first half where neither team could get going and we just talked to our guys at halftime (and said) ‘Be patient, don't turn the ball over and things will get going for you – just keep guarding.' And that's what happened," said Alford.

UNM shot 17-of-33 (51.5%) in the second half and 25-of-59 for the game and out-scored UNLV 32-14 in the paint after being outscored 10-8 in the post in the first half.

Defensively the Lobos reversed the trend they found against the Rebels in Las Vegas, forcing 17 turnovers and tallying nine steals while only turning the ball over 10 times – and turning the ball over just once in the second half. New Mexico also held UNLV to season lows for points and field goal percentage as the Rebels shot 31.1% (14-of-45) from the floor, 23.5% (4-17) in the 2nd half

"It is always difficult coming to The Pit and playing a New Mexico team because they are so balanced and we were extremely concerned about Kendall Williams' ability at the three and Snell's threes and McDonald coming off the bench," said UNLV head coach Dave Rice. "I think we did a good job at limiting them at the three point but Gordon has 27 and 20. It is hard to win a game on the road that way. We tried to battle and I thought that we got some good looks in the second half but we weren't able to get them in."

Both teams traded baskets early on as neither team was able to find the groove offensively. With the game tied 11-11 at 10:39 left in the first half, UNLV managed a 10-2 run as the Lobos shooters went cold. The Rebels pushed the lead to 21-13 on a Chace Stanback trey with 7:10 left in the half. New Mexico responded with a 10-1 run kicked off by a Gordon dunk and driven by 3-of-3 free throw shooting.

UNM held the lead 23-22 with 2:55 left in the half after that flurry but the Rebels would take a 27-26 lead into half after a Snell dunk ended the scoring.

Alford had nothing for praise for UNM's sold out crowd after the game.

"Our fans are great and I saw a "we are New Mexico" banner being held and I hope that the message was sent," he said. "We are New Mexico and we are proud of that. We are proud of this program and obviously this community and our institution."

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