The victory lifted the Lobos to an 18-10 season mark and a 9-4 record in the Mountain West Conference, keeping UNM in the hunt in a second-place tie with BYU. Utah remains atop the conference standings at 10-2. TCU fell to 14-14 and 5-9 in the MWC.
UNM and TCU were locked in a tough, physical battle during the first half, with the Horned Frogs never ahead but staying within a few points of the Lobos. New Mexico led by just 32-30 at halftime.
Lobos said he did his best to motivate his team during halftime, pointing out his players were playing at too slow a pace. "So I had to be the jockey, and do the kicking and whipping," Alford said. Like a good thoroughbred, his team responded with a faster-reacting transition game and slowly pulled away from the stubborn Frogs in the second half to win by 14 points.
In the second half, our seniors really came to the forefront," Alford said. New Mexico's scoring was led by senior post Daniel Faris with a season-high 20 points. Sixteen of his points came during UNM's second-half surge, and Faris also tied a school record by hitting 12-of-12 free throws.
Senior forward Tony Danridge scored 17 points and the team's only other senior -- Chad Toppert, the Lobos' leading three-point marksman -- added 12 points, including three treys. Junior Roman Martinez was close to reaching with 9 points, and led the team in rebounds with seven.
Chad Topper the 1,000+ points man
Toppert's output made him the 26th Lobo to score 1,000 points in his career at UNM. He now has 1,005 points, despite starting just 28 games in his 121-game career. That's the fewest number of starts for any player in the Lobos' 1,000-point club.
TCU's scoring was paced by center Zvonko Buljan with 16 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. The Horned Frogs also got 16 points from guard Keion Mitchem and 13 points from forward Kevin Langford, their leading scorer with a 14.1 points per game average.
A crowd of 14,777 was uncharacteristically quiet in the first half, but began to noisily support the home team as the Lobos began widening their lead in the second stanza. The Lobos' 6-9 Faris and TCU's two big men -- Buljan, a 6-9, 220-lb. junior from Croatia, and 6-8, 245-lb. senior Langford -- waged a hammer-and-tongs battle on the inside. So plenty of fouls were whistled. Langford sank 13-of-14 free throws, besting Faris' performance at the charity line by one. But although Faris had four fouls on him, he had the last laugh when Langford and Buljan each fouled out late in the game.
Both UNM and TCU improved their shooting in the second half. The Lobos shot field goals at a 54.5% clip in the second half, finishing with 22-of-47 for the game at 46.8%. The Frogs shot an even 50% in the second half but finished with 19-of-43 shooting, 44.2% for the game.
The Lobos won the rebouind battle by 30-24, and after committing nine turnovers in the first half, had only two in the second half.
First-year TCU coach Jim Christian (not named for the school, or vice versa) earned Alford's praise for having the Horned Frogs well-prepared, and for playing very hard. Christian agreed it was a very physical game, but UNM was "solid and fundamental, so they kept getting good shots. We got out of rhythm and did things we weren't supposed to do."
The Lobos next game is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Colorado State. They return home for their final home game of the season against MWC-leading Utah on March 3, and close with a road game at Wyoming on March 7.
TCU finishes its home season on Saturday, Feb. 28, against San Diego State. The Frogs then wind up their 2008-2009 campaign with a road game at Utah on March 7.
As a special bonus TheRedMenace.com 's own Wes Henderson was able to speak with Freshmen Nate Garth after the game.
PG Nate "Boogie" Garth
Click here for Wes' interview with "Boogie"