ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Lobos used a suffocating defense to overwhelm No. 6-ranked San Diego State 58-44 at The Pit on Saturday night.
Forward Cameron Bairstow led all players with 26 points and also pulled down nine rebounds to pace the Lobos (21-5, 12-2 Mountain West).
“I just went out and played. We knew what was on the line, what the game meant to us,” Bairstow said. “We obviously were very keen to get out to a big start and we managed to do that.”
The Aztecs (23-3, 12-2) shot just 32.3 percent from the field (21-for-65) and simply never got into any kind of rhythm on offense.
“In my opinion, not just because of the fact we got beat and we got beat badly, they’re the best team we’ve played (this season),” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “They’ve got size, they’ve got strength, they’ve got veteran leaders, they’re good.”
The Mountain West is now tied at the top with four games to play.
“It’s been coming and I knew it was coming,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said of his team’s effort. “You have to win those games if you want to be relevant. And we want to be really relevant.”
The game was only close for the first minute of the second half.
Forward J.J. O’Brien stole the ball and hit a jumper to bring San Diego State within 29-24. The Aztecs would never get any closer.
New Mexico went on a staggering 23-5 run, powered by the inside presence of Bairstow, who scored 14 of those points.
San Diego State did not fare any better stopping the Lobos on the perimeter. After back-to-back Bairstow jumpers made it 33-24, guard Kendall Williams nailed a 3-pointer. After a layup by guard Hugh Greenwood and a dunk by Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee, Williams hit another 3 to make it 41-26.
Bairstow scored the next six points, forcing San Diego State to call a timeout with 12:50 remaining and facing a 21-point deficit.
The best the Aztecs could do was to turn three straight turnovers into baskets, pulling within 52-35, and then go on another mini-run to get within 56-44 late, but it was not enough.
“We couldn’t get the ball to the rim,” Fisher said. “We shoot over 30 free throws a game. We shot three tonight, didn’t make any. (The officials) let them play. But it’s fair on both sides; they only shot six.”
The Lobos led 29-22 at halftime, largely because of an early onslaught by Bairstow, who scored eight of New Mexico’s first 10 points and finished with the half with 10.
San Diego State trailed 23-14 when the third media timeout occurred with 7:02 left in the half. After a 3:30 stretch in which forward Josh Davis’ layup was the only basket for either team, the Aztecs went on a 6-2 run to cut the Lobos’ lead to 23-20.
After the teams traded baskets, New Mexico scored the last four points of the half on center Alex Kirk’s dunk and Williams’ driving layup.
The Aztecs’ only leads of the half were at 2-0 and 4-2. Forward Winston Shepard’s jumper at the 16-minute mark tied the score at 6, but from there it was all New Mexico.
The Lobos went on a 12-4 run to take an 18-10 lead. Bairstow scored six points during the spurt and Kirk, guard Deshawn Delaney and Greenwood also contributed one basket each.
NOTES: The Lobos and Aztecs split their regular-season meetings in each of the last two seasons, but New Mexico won the last two meetings in the conference tournament, the 2012 championship game and a 2013 semifinal. … The Lobos held their last eight opponents anywhere from one to 19 points below their season average, including UNLV to 15.2 points below their average of 71.2 in New Mexico’s 68-56 win in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. … The Aztecs entered Saturday’s game with an .889 winning percentage (8-1) against teams that played in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the second-best mark in the nation after Arizona (9-1).
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