No. 12 New Mexico skates past Air Force
Darrington Hobson scored 17 points, including a putback with 16.9
seconds remaining, and Dairese Gary made two free throws with 2.5
seconds left and No. 12 New Mexico beat feisty Air Force 59-56 on
The Lobos (25-3, 11-2 Mountain West) logged plenty of important marks with this win, their school-record 11th straight in conference play and the school's best-ever record through 28 games.
But it was not easy, not with Air Force (9-16, 1-11) using its methodical halfcourt offense to throw a wrench into the gears of one of the nation's hottest teams.
Grant Parker scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, including a layup with 27.8 seconds left that put the Falcons ahead 56-55. But Gary drove and found Hobson on New Mexico's ensuing possession, and a sellout crowd at The Pit exhaled a major sigh of relief.
Nobody wearing red expected the league's last-place team to take the conference leader to the wire, especially since the Falcons were coming off a 91-48 loss at BYU one week ago. Air Force has lost four straight and 11 of 12, but this one could have gone either way.
The Falcons missed a chance to retake the lead after Hobson's basket. Avery Merriex drove and put up a roller that bounced off the rim. Michael Lyons, who scored 11 points, missed a follow-up.
After Gary was fouled and made both free throws, the Falcons were down to their final chance. Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds called a timeout to set up a play, but Hobson got his finger on the inbounds pass to deflect it harmlessly to the court as the horn went off.
Air Force is the only opponent that doesn't get booed coming down the ramp at The Pit, but the Lobos, who came in averaging 77.7 points a game, were a little too gracious to their visitors.
The Falcons, wracked by injuries all season, took a 14-10 lead midway through the first half and went up 20-16 after Zach Bohannon's layup with 5:25 left.
New Mexico coach Steve Alford had cautioned during the week against playing at Air Force's pace, but that's exactly what happened.
New Mexico went 10 minutes without a field goal until Nate Garth's 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in the half ended a streak of eight straight misses from 3-point range, part of a 12-2 burst in the final 5 minutes of the half that put the Lobos up 28-22.
Tough as it was for the Lobos to grind it out, it could serve as a good lesson.
Alford said this win was reminiscent of New Mexico's 81-79 double-overtime victory last season at Colorado State, a game the Lobos trailed 62-57 with 13 seconds to go but tied on Daniel Faris' reverse layup just before the regulation buzzer.