TCU 62, New Mexico 54

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LAS VEGAS (AP)—A sore shoulder didn’t keep Brent Hackett from doing all the heavy lifting.

Hackett’s career-high 24 points led TCU’s comeback from a 14-point first-half deficit and the Horned Frogs raced past New Mexico 62-54 Tuesday night in the opener of the Mountain West Conference tournament, ending Ritchie McKay’s five-year tenure as Lobos coach.

Hackett did it just 72 hours after separating his troublesome right shoulder against San Diego State, a scary recurrence of something that happened 13 times last season before he had it surgically repaired.

“When it comes out, it doesn’t feel good. When it goes in, it feels a lot better,” said Hackett, who sank five 3-pointers. “I’ve played with it all my life.”

TCU coach Neil Dougherty has become something of an expert on separated shoulders.

“Obviously, he’s still in a very uncomfortable state at game time today, but 24 points later, you sure couldn’t tell,” Dougherty said. “He’s just a tough kid that continues to fight through a lot of pain sometimes.

“One of these days he’ll play a healthy game and we’ll all find out how good he might be.”

Thursday would be a good time for that. The eighth-seeded Horned Frogs (13-16) face top-seeded BYU in the quarterfinals that day, hoping for their fourth win in five games following an 11-game losing streak.

The Lobos (15-17) lost their fifth straight and finished with just their second losing season since 1984 in McKay’s last game as coach. He finished 82-69 in five seasons. He is 165-158 in an 11-year coaching career that included earlier stops at Portland State, Colorado State and Oregon State.

McKay led the Lobos to the NCAA tournament two years ago, earning a contract extension through 2010. That team was led by Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger, who had transferred to New Mexico from Bradley.

“I would have liked to continue,” said McKay, who got his walking papers last month. “But I’ve known my fate for a while in terms of tenure at the University of New Mexico. I’m thankful for the opportunity the university gave me. I’m very hopeful that they continue to prosper. I’m sure their leadership will hire someone that can restore UNM’s great tradition.”

The Lobos, who hadn’t lost five straight games since 1995, had high hopes they could do that this year behind transfer J.R. Giddens, but the team never came sustained things after a 5-0 start and couldn’t salvage another game for McKay despite jumping out to an early double-digit lead.

“Heart, that’s all,” Giddens replied in a barely audible voice when asked what went wrong after halftime. “Yeah, we didn’t have that fight.”

The Horned Frogs sure did.

Kevin Langford pulled down 13 boards and Femi Ibikunle added 10 points and some very big defensive stops for TCU, which trailed by six at the half.

Giddens had 10 points and 12 boards for New Mexico, which also got 12 points from Jamaal Smith.

It appeared early on that McKay get at least another game with the Lobos.

New Mexico used an 18-0 run highlighted by Smith’s rebound and fastbreak basket to take a 24-11 lead. The Horned Frogs went seven minutes between baskets during that stretch. After trailing by as many as 14, however, TCU pulled to 34-26 at the half. The Lobos missed their first eight shots after halftime and the collapse set in, just as their season had caved after a promising start.

“I think for whatever reason, when adversity struck, we struggled to row in the same direction collectively,” McKay said.

So, now he and his players will go their separate ways.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 New Mexico
J. Giddens J. Giddens
4-9,  10 Pts
12 Rebs, 3 Assists
B. Hackett B. Hackett
7-14,  24 Pts
3 Rebs, 2 Assists

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