Wednesday night's game between New Mexico and San Diego State was a big one for the visitors, as Steve Alford's team didn't own a single win over a Top 25 team. But also on the line was sole possession of first place in the Mountain West after UNLV fell at TCU on Tuesday night.
And the team many expected to win the conference before the season began, New Mexico, took control of the wheel ahead of their matchup with the Runnin' Rebels with a 77-67 win at Viejas Arena. Kendall Williams posted his highest point total since January 7th against North Dakota, scoring a game-high 21 points, and Drew Gordon was a handful inside as he finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds.
"I think Kendall Williams was probably the most important guy, but Drew Gordon was very good with the way he played," remarked SDSU head coach Steve Fisher in his postgame radio interview. "They have guys that stepped up. Whether it was guys that started or coming off the bench, they made it difficult for us."
Speaking of those reserves, the New Mexico bench outscored San Diego State's reserves 33-12 with guard Jamal Fenton providing 15 of those points. The decision-making of both he and Hugh Greenwood was going to be an important aspect of the game to keep track of, and they were solid in combining for just two turnovers (both by Greenwood).
Fenton's scoring was also welcome due to the fact that leading scorer Tony Snell was held scoreless, as he missed all four of his shots from the field. But the Lobos were able to make up for that due to their reserves, which also included Chase Adams scoring eight points in seven minutes of action.
Jamaal Franklin led the Aztecs with 16 points and ten rebounds and Tim Shelton (13 points) and James Rahon (11) also reached double figures, but Chase Tapley couldn't get going as he shot 3-for-11 from the field. As a team SDSU made just three off their fourteen three-point attempts, and when compared to the Lobos' 10-for-19 night that's a tough mountain to climb.
Next up for New Mexico is a home game against UNLV on Saturday, and a win at The Pit would make all three teams 2-2 against each other. That would in turn place more emphasis on how each of the three does against the non-contenders, and New Mexico has yet to drop one of those games. To say the least Saturday offers UNM a golden opportunity to take full control of the Mountain West race.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Illinois drops a close one at home to Purdue, and it may be approacing "that time" in Champaign.
From the orange blazer donned by head coach Bruce Weber to the fact that Illinois had lost five of their last six games, Wednesday's game against Purdue dripped of desperation for the Fighting Illini. But that still wouldn't be enough for Illinois, who fell at home 67-62, dropping their sixth game out of the last seven. While the season still has games left to be played Illinois doesn't have the look of a team poised to turn things around, meaning that the chances of returning to the Big Dance are dwindling away. And in the postgame press conference the words coming from the head coach didn't sound like those of a man confident that his guys could turn things around.
"Instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose this year. That's really sad." To be fair Weber did also say that "it's never too late" to turn things around, and while that is the case one has to wonder if this group has the ability not just physically but mentally to do so. Illinois shot 3-for-21 from beyond the arc against Purdue, and while that didn't reach the depths of SMU's shooting (3-for-29 in a 28-point outing for their entire team) with a 7-footer like Meyers Leonard (4-7 FG, nine points, 12 rebounds) inside that's inexcusable. Until this group executes better offensively they'll continue to struggle, and the longer that happens the louder the "job security" talk gets.
2. Max Good's road warriors tighten up the WCC race with a win at #16 Saint Mary's.
Loyola Marymount may have some mystifying losses to their credit this season, there's little doubt that the Lions are the best road team in the WCC. LMU spoiled "Senior Night" for Saint Mary's as they beat the Gaels 75-60, moving to 7-1 in league road games this season. Drew Viney (17 points) and Anthony Ireland (16 points, seven assists) led the way and Jarred DuBois added 15 off the bench for LMU, who won despite allowing the Gaels to grab 16 offensive rebounds. Rob Jones led the way for SMC with 25 points and 15 rebounds but Matthew Dellavedova was quiet (ten points, six assists) and Stephen Holt was lost for the game early in the second half with a knee injury.
What this result does is drop Saint Mary's into a tie for first place with Gonzaga in the loss column, which more than opens up the possibility of the Bulldogs winning at least a share of their 12th consecutive WCC regular season title. And of course Mark Few's team is the only one to have beaten Loyola Marymount at home, as they beat the Lions 78-59 in Spokane last week. So even with the discussion of NCAA bids stopping at three (adding BYU into the discussion), LMU has the look of a team that can get hot in Las Vegas and leave with the automatic bid.
3. Miami lets a great opportunity slip away as North Carolina grabs 24 offensive rebounds in the win.
North Carolina shot just 5-for-18 from beyond the arc, and while Miami wasn't a great deal better at 8-for-23 the Hurricanes had every opportunity to take advantage of that lack of accuracy. But they couldn't, and UNC's work on the offensive glass was the big reason why. The Tar Heels grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 23 second chance points in their 73-64 victory. North Carolina was also a plus-10 in points from the foul line, as they shot 16-for-23 from the charity stripe (Miami: 6-for-9). Harrison Barnes scored 23 points and grabbed six rebounds and John Henson added a double-double with 14 and 11 (with three blocks) to keep the Heels tied atop the ACC in the loss column (9-2; Duke and Florida State are both 8-2). Durand Scott led four Hurricanes in double figures with 15 points but they were unable to add another big win to their resume, and rebounding was the big reason why.
1. While beating Villanova isn't a "marquee" win by any stretch of the imagination, the fact that USF was able to take care of business is a good sign for the Bulls as they head into the stretch run. In the 65-51 win over the Wildcats, Victor Rudd Jr. scored 14 points and Anthony Collins added ten points and seven assists as USF moved to 9-4 in Big East play. The Bulls need to find a resume-building victory at some point, but to say the least this season is progress for a program that taken more than its fair share of lumps during their time in the conference.
2. In a stunning result in the MAAC, Marist beat Loyola (MD) 72-54 in Poughkeepsie as Adam Kemp finished two blocks short of a triple-double (17 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks) and three other starters scored in double figures. The Red Foxes' win also gives Iona, who won 75-62 at Rider, sole possession of first place with two games remaining on the league slate.
3. Warren Niles scored 24 points and Michael Craion 18 to help lead Oral Roberts past IPFW 75-71 in Fort Wayne, clinching the Summit League regular season crown for the Golden Eagles. ORU has won 17 of their last 18 games and will host Akron as part of the Sears BracketBusters event, and they're going to be a tough out in the conference tournament in a couple of weeks.
4. While New Mexico may have locked up a third bid for the Mountain West, thanks to both Wyoming and Colorado State that may be all the league gets come Selection Sunday. Michael Lyons knocked down six three-pointers and scored 24 points to lead Air Force past the Cowboys 58-53 in Laramie. And in Boise it was Derrick Marks who went the length of the court to score the game-winning bucket with under a second remaining to push Boise State past CSU 70-69. Given their tenuous statuses going into Wednesday, Wyoming and Colorado State may have seen their bubbles burst with these defeats.
5. Back in 2004-05 Savannah State went 0-28, and there were few who thought it possible that the Tigers would one day sit in first place in the MEAC. That day has come thanks to Delaware State's 73-63 overtime win at Norfolk State, with Tahj Tate's 25 points leading the victors. Brandon Wheeless scored 17 points to lead Norfolk State (10-3), who just like DSU (9-3) is a game behind Savannah State (9-2) in the loss column but the Tigers have two games in hand on the Spartans.
6. Neil Watson's game-tying three with less than a second remaining got Southern Miss to overtime in a key Conference USA battle with Tulsa, a game the Golden Eagles went on to win 77-69 to remain tied with Memphis atop the conference standings. Jonathan Mills scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed ten rebounds to lead Southern Miss, whose win also establishes two games of separation between themselves and Memphis and the rest of C-USA.
7. LaMarcus Reed III scored 18 points to help lead UT-Arlington back from a 15-point deficit in beating Stephen F. Austin 51-47 to remain undefeated in Southland play at 12-0. The Mavericks will take a 16-game win streak into Saturday's Sears BracketBusters matchup at Weber State, and with their three-game lead in the loss column UTA is well on their way to the Southland regular season crown.
8. Garrett Stutz knocked down all four of his three-point attempts and finished with 21 points and ten rebounds to lead #24 Wichita State past Missouri State 73-58 to clinch at least a share of the Missouri Valley crown. The Shockers have now won 13 of their last 14 games, and the defeat was of the triple-overtime variety at Drake. Gregg Marshall's team seems to be clicking just as the games become magnified in importance, which is a good thing.
9. Northwestern let a resume-building opportunity slip away as they fell 71-66 at #20 Indiana.
While the win gives the Hoosiers their first 20-win season of the Tom
Crean era, the visiting Wildcats dropped to 15-10 overall and 5-8 in Big
Ten play. John Shurna led Northwestern with 29 points and Frew Crawford
added 18, but no other Wildcat was able to reach double figures. Cody
Zeller led three Indiana starters in double figures with 23 points and
Three Notable Performances
1. G Darrion Pellum (Hampton)
33 points, six steals and five rebounds in the Pirates' 82-62 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
2. G Nate Wolters (South Dakota State)
30 points (14-18 FG), five assists and three steals in the Jackrabbits' 80-57 win over North Dakota State.
3. G Kendall Williams and F Drew Gordon (New Mexico)
Williams scored 21 points (7-10 FG) and grabbed four rebounds while Gordon finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds in the Lobos' 77-67 win at #15 San Diego State.