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Skirmish spurs New Mexico to blowout of Air Force

The SportsXchange

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The New Mexico Lobos broke loose down the stretch and bolted past the Air Force Falcons for an 81-58 victory on Wednesday night.

The No. 15 Lobos (20-3, 7-1 Mountain West) went on a 14-1 run late in the second half to put away the Falcons (14-7, 5-3).

"We held them to 29 points both halves," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "I thought we dominated the glass. Really good performance. I'm very pleased to get to the midpoint 7-1, first place all by ourselves."

Air Force had pulled within 54-48 on Roswell, N.M., native Marek Olesinski's 3-pointer with 10:26 left, only to see New Mexico's Tony Snell counter with a 3 of his own. Kyle Green then brought the Falcons back within six when he hit a 3.

The Lobos reeled off six straight points on a fadeaway jumper by Jamal Fenton, a lay-in by Snell and another lay-in by Cameron Bairstow to push the lead to 63-51.

Then things took a turn for the bizarre as both teams, including the coaching staffs, had to be separated at midcourt during the media timeout at 6:55. The final result was three technical fouls -- two on the Lobos and one on the Falcons.

"There was something with players (pushing and shoving)," Alford said. "There was a double technical. After watching the tape, they thought Jamal pushed one of their guys.

"The (verbal) exchange of coaches came just because we had heard an assistant talk to one of our guys. I'm not going to sit back and let that happen. I think that let things get escalated and heated. The officials did a good job of separating everybody."

Kendall Williams, who was whistled for one of the technicals, said Fenton and Green started the fracas and he was "kind of stuck in the middle."

"They were a little chippy with us in here," Williams said. "It was an important game. You're in The Pit, you don't want to get technicals or do anything stupid, but you've got to prove a point. When you're at home, you don't want anyone being chippy or trying to punk you."

Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich did not see much more than Alford did in terms of the players shoving each other.

"It was a heated game," Pilipovich said. "I didn't quite see what happened, but that's neither here nor there."

If anything, the skirmish seemed to set the Lobos off, with Alford saying it was "to our benefit." The Falcons scored one free throw in the next two-plus minutes, while New Mexico racked up eight points to effectively put the game away at 71-52.

"It fired us up," Williams said. "That's been our staple all year: toughness. That starts from the coaches all the way down our bench. We're not going to let anyone come in here and intimidate us."

The Lobos won behind a very balanced scoring attack, as Snell, Bairstow and Alex Kirk each had 14 points. Hugh Greenwood added 13 points and Williams scored 11.

New Mexico held a 39-24 edge in rebounding, largely thanks to the size advantage it had with Kirk (eight rebounds) and Bairstow (nine rebounds) inside.

Michael Lyons and Mike Fitzgerald shared the scoring lead for Air Force with 16 points apiece.

New Mexico took a 42-29 lead into halftime, including a 9-3 run to close out the first 20 minutes.

Williams drew a foul and made the first of two free throws to put the Lobos up 34-26. He missed the second, but Bairstow pulled down the rebound and then fired off a pass to Williams, who nailed a 3-pointer.

Greenwood followed with another 3-pointer and Bairstow added two free throws to give New Mexico its biggest lead at 42-26.

Fitzgerald hit a 3-pointer before the half to account for Air Force's only basket in the final three minutes.

NOTES: In Mountain West games, Air Force has been shooting lights out. The Falcons are first in the conference in free-throw percentage (83.2), field-goal percentage (46.4), 3-point percentage (38.2) and 3-pointers per game (7.4). ... New Mexico has won 30 of 32 meetings with Air Force in The Pit. Alford is 12-0 against the Falcons. ... Air Force's 70-67 win over then-No. 22 San Diego State on Saturday was just the Falcons' third victory over a Top 25 team.
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