Second-half run lead Lobos to win at Air Force
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)—When New Mexico coach Steve Alford spoke, J.R. Giddens listened.
Giddens played just five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and the Lobos were tied at 35 at intermission. But New Mexico and Giddens were a different team in the second half, opening up a 15-point lead with 5:49 left to play and coasting to a 68-51 win Air Force on Wednesday night.
“He was pretty passionate about the message he delivered at halftime,” Giddens said of Alford’s halftime talk. “So we came out and tried to execute better.”
Air Force committed five turnovers before finding the basket in the second half.
New Mexico, meanwhile, opened scoring with a 3-point basket by Roman Martinez and never looked back. Giddens scored a game-high 14 points, and Daniel Faris dominated inside, spurring the Lobos run.
“Our defense just really wanted to win,” Giddens said of the second-half effort. “Winning here is hard to do. When you?re 20 minutes away from having a win, you kind of get pumped for that. We were just trying to play hard and finish off this game. This is a big win for us.”
New Mexico failed to put away the Falcons earlier as both teams made runs.
The Lobos opened a 14-point lead midway through the first half behind the 3-point shooting of Chad Toppert, who canned three shots from beyond the arc, and Jamaal Smith who added another 3-pointer.
Air Force answered with a long-range basket by Andrew Henke and a pair of 3-pointers from Eric Kenzik, to narrow the margin to 27-22.
Three-pointers by Dairese Gary and Darren Prentice gave the Lobos the lead, but Henke tied the game with a 3-pointer shortly before the buzzer.
“That was big,” Giddens said of his team?s eight-for 11 first-half 3-point shooting performance. “With everybody hitting from the outside like that, it loosened up the inside for us later.”
New Mexico (21-6, 8-4) in the Mountain West Conference and 21-6 overall, entered the game in third place in the conference and on a four-game wining streak. With the win New Mexico completes a season series sweep of the Falcons after a 59-44 win in Albuquerque on Jan. 19.
“I thought that we wore them down,” Alford said. “We talked about it at half first team to 60 wins. You play Air Force and that?s the key. We were the first to get 60 and we got the win.”
Air Force (13-12, 5-7) was in sixth place, and had broken a three-game losing skid with a win over Wyoming on Saturday.
“We had three turnovers right off to start the second half and I think that set the tone for the rest of the game,” said Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds. “They were able to get the ball inside and we had trouble scoring the basketball. The other thing about the second half is they got every loose ball and we didn?t get one.”
Air Force senior Tim Anderson agreed.
“I think at halftime they came out fired up and we came out nonchalant,” he said. “We need to come out with more intensity.”
Kenzik led Air Force scoring coming off the bench with a career-high 11 points. Henke and Keith Maren had 10.