New Mexico wins in Alford’s debut, dumping Colorado and Bzdelik 54-47

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP)—This was the debut Steve Alford craved and Jeff Bzdelik feared.

Freshman Jonathan Wills scored 13 points and J.R. Giddens sank a backbreaking basket with 33 seconds left as New Mexico beat Colorado 54-47 Friday night in a matchup of coaches making their debuts with new teams after successful stints at other schools.

“This was a huge win for us, our first game, come in to a Big 12 opponent and really and truly lead start to finish,” said Alford, whose Lobos limited Colorado to 34 percent shooting largely by forcing them to take jump shots—and the Buffs were a dismal 4-of-19 from the arc.

“I’ve told the team our identity is going to have to be with our defense,” Alford said. “I think scoring will take care of itself just as they continue to learn the things we do within our offensive system. But if we can guard like we did tonight? We took five charges. You take five charges in a game, you’re really doing some good things.”

Buffaloes senior star Richard Roby, who averaged 17.3 points last season, was nearly shut out for the first time in his career. His only point came on a free throw with 1:16 remaining that pulled Colorado to 50-45.

“In basketball, there will always be nights like this,” said Roby, who took just three shots. “I just couldn’t get in a flow. But I can’t get down on myself. It’s still early in the season.”

Marcus Hall, who led the Buffs with 11 points, drove to the basket with a minute left to make it 50-47, but Giddens, who scored just four points, set up in the left corner and calmly swished a jumper to seal it and silence the Coors Events Center crowd.

“Yeah, I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” Bzdelik said. “But it turned out to be another train.”

The Buffs trailed by double digits most of the game but began its run on Xavier Silas’ 3-pointer with 2:20 remaining that cut the Lobos’ lead to 49-43.

Alford, who was 152-106 in eight seasons at Iowa, replaced Ritchie McKay, who was fired after going 82-69 in five seasons, including 15-17 last year. His biggest problem was an overall road record of 8-41.

“It’s huge, to get a road win this early in the season,” Lobos point guard Jamaal Smith said. “I remember last year our first road game we were blown out by about 30 (actually 24) by UTEP. That was miserable. I’ve never felt any worse. And then to come out this year and all pitch in and we get a road win, it feels great.”

Giddens called it an all-around win: “Freshmen got the first game over with, we got a road win, got the first-game jitters out. We’re getting a feel for Coach and his system and how he coaches in games.”

This was the Lobos’ first opener away from The Pit since 1986, when they began the season at a tournament in Hawaii. Their last true road opener was Dec. 1, 1979, at Colorado.

So, this was a chance to make an early statement and they did.

“We knew we could build upon this and have a special season,” Smith said. “And that’s what Coach wrote on the board: ‘This is the beginning of a special season.’ Here it is, we’re just building the blocks.”

Bzdelik, a former coach of the Denver Nuggets and the Air Force Academy, bolted for Boulder after leading the Falcons to a 50-16 mark in two seasons. He replaced Ricardo Patton, who was let go after 11 years and a 7-20 farewell season.

He’s told anyone who will listen that there is no quick fix, and Friday night proved him right.

“We had more to do with losing this game than New Mexico had to do with winning this game,” Bzdelik declared before adding: “No excuses. We got beat.”

But not as bad as last year, when the Lobos won 106-65 in Albuquerque.

“It’s a different team than we played last year,” Smith said. “You could see it’s the coach from Air Force.”

San Antonio Spurs scout Dave Fehte was in attendance to watch Roby, who ranks seventh on Colorado’s all-time scoring list but was one of two Buffaloes starters shut out in the first half. The other was Hall, who redshirted last season and underwent minor thumb surgery last month.

Unlike Roby, Hall finally got it going after the break, something he found of little consolation.

“I feel like I let us down in the first half,” Hall said. “It wasn’t enough.”

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