New Mexico downs Air Force 84-55
ALBURQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) As the New Mexico team prepared to head down the steep ramp toward the Pit floor before Wednesday night's game with Air Force, one of the Lobos players, yelled, ''Let's push this lead to 15. Then let's push it to 20.''
Air Force players also waiting on the ramp smirked a bit as they strolled down the floor for their introductions.
It turned out the Lobos were prophetic, winning 84-55 behind 17 points from Elijah Brown after taking a 45-30 halftime lead. It was the Falcons' seventh straight loss.
New Mexico benefited from a dead-eye shooting performance, particularly in the first half, when the Lobos (12-8, 5-2 Mountain West) shot 17 of 23 from the field, including 6 of 8 on 3-pointers, for their best shooting half of the season.
''We got a lot of guys that can shoot the ball and they're getting better,'' UNM coach Craig Neal said.
It was a case of following the game plan well enough to succeed, Neal said.
''I just told them that we have to score the ball,'' he said. ''I was confident we would shoot the ball well. But I told them they had to take great shots, not good shots.''
The Falcons tried to take away the inside, but Air Force (10-11, 1-7) had no answers when the outside shots began falling with rapidity.
''Because of the size we were giving up we couldn't go man and spread out because they would go inside,'' said Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich. ''So we had to give something up.''
It turned out Air Force was not very effective taking away the inside, either.
Although the Falcons forced 20 turnovers, New Mexico dominated the interior with a 42-26 rebounding advantage and a 34-10 scoring margin in the paint.
''We fought, but at times we were fighting big brother part of the time,'' Pilipovich said. ''I hate to say it, and I'm not making excuses, but goodness gracious.''
Tim Williams added 16 points and 10 rebounds and seldom-used freshman guard Anthony Mathis shattered his career high with 16 points for New Mexico.
Hayden Graham scored 14 points for Air Force and Zach Moer had 12.
New Mexico grabbed control of the game midway through the first half behind a 25-9 run, capped by five straight Lobos 3-pointers. At one point in the run, the Lobos hit six consecutive shots, including three 3-pointers.
Air Force drew within 56-47 early in the second half, but the Lobos used a 13-0 run to push the lead back out to a comfortable margin.
''I thought we prepared really well for two days,'' Neal said. ''I thought we did a lot of drills instead of just trying to guard their whole offense.''
The Falcons have not won in Albuquerque since Feb. 10, 2007, a span of nine games. Second-leading Air Force scorer Trevor Lyons was 1 for 11 from the field and finished with six points.
Brown has gone 8-for-11 on 3-pointers in his last two games for the Lobos. Xavier Adams equaled a career high with 14.
New Mexico plays at Boise State on Saturday.
Air Force plays at San Jose State on Saturday.