Lobos outlast St. Louis for 64-60 win

Kendal Williams' steal and slam was a key play.

The final game of 2011 produced the first bonafide "Pit Game" as the UNM men's basketball team toughed out a close, hard fought 64-60 win over visiting St. Louis University and their head coach Rick Majerus before 15,139 at The Pit Saturday afternoon.

Senior Drew Gordon scored the final two of his team-high 18 points on a pair of free throws with one second left in regulation as New Mexico (12-2) won its tenth game in a row over the much touted Billikens' in a close, tense game that saw nine lead changes and 8 ties.

"I thought this was a really hard fought college basketball game between two really solid teams," said head coach Steve Alford. "I think they're terrific. They make you work, they don't beat themselves and they are really good defensively. That's why I'm really proud of our guys. They shot nearly 50% from the field and I don't think that anyone has gotten to the line this year at the level that we have."

UNM trailed by as much as seven points in the first half and lost a two point halftime advantage to trail 45-42 midway through the second half before going on a 6-0 run capped by a Phillip McDonald trey with 7:10 left in the game to give UNM a 48-45 lead.

The Lobos would never trail again, but had to work to keep the lead as St. Louis answered every crucial shot made by UNM with clutch shots of their own. The turning point came with 1:36 left in the game. Following an A.J. Hardeman jumper  that gave UNM a 58-55 lead with 2:06, Kendall Williams made a steal and drove in for a thunderous dunk to give UNM a 60-55 lead with 1:34 left.

The Billikens would cut the lead to 62-60 with seven seconds but Cody Ellis missed the third of three free throws and after a miss by SLU's Jordair Jett, Gordon would haul in his final rebound and be sent to the line where he would sea the game for UNM.

"It was a fun end of the game," said Gordon. "We messed up a little bit, and I fouled a three-point shooter, which was not smart. But for the most part, everybody did exactly what they were told and listened to coach well and kept their focus and that helped us out at the end."

Gordon just missed a double-double pulling in nine rebounds and scoring 18. Jamal Fenton came off the bench to add 10 points and two of New Mexico's seven assists. Kendall Williams added nine points and Tony Snell added eight points. St. Louis was paced by forward Brian Conklin, who scored a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds. Guard Kwamain Mitchell added 13

The Lobos were taken out of their three-point shooting game by SLU's tough defending on the perimeter and eventually turned to driving the paint to get their points.

Tied with UNM 7-7 early on, the Billikens outscored UNM 14-7 to take a 21-14 lead with 7:27 left in the first half. It was at that point that the Lobos began driving the lane, drawing fouls and eventually earning the double bonus and retaking the lead largely by shooting free throws. UNM would finish the game making 24-of-35 free throws compared to SLU's 11-of-16. The Lobos also only shot seven three-pointers for the entire game, hitting two. St. Louis (12-2) didn't do much better, going 3-of-18 from behind the three-point line.

"Usually we're a good three-point team," said Fenton. "I'm pretty sure we only shot eight threes a game. Usually we shoot 18. They took away the three pointer, so coach said we have to drive them to death."

Alford said the Lobos knew what to expect from SLU.

"We knew they were very good defensively and we didn't want to take bad shots and for the most part we didn't take bad shots," said Alford. "They did a really god job of taking out three game away but in taking that away I was very pleased with our guys and that they didn't allow them to take away other things. I thought we went down the side well and that we drove the ball well."
"Anytime that you can outscore your opponent by 13 at the line in a tight game where both teams are very similar that could be the different," said Alford. "I thought that was the difference tonight."

Gordon said he thinks this Lobo team has become very good over the last five weeks and has "the potential to be great."

"It's something that we're striving for," Gordon said. "Saint Louis was an amazing team to play and it was a tough week for us on our schedule and to come out with two is huge. We're still growing up in how we're playing and our execution. By the time we peak I think we'll be a great team."

New Mexico plays two more non-conference games before beginning Mountain West Conference play at Wyoming on Saturday, Jan. 14.

UNM plays two more non-conference games before then – Tuesday against Houston Baptist (5-8). The Huskies lost to Duquesne Saturday night 118-72 and Saturday, Jan. 7 against North Dakota (5-8). The Fighting Sioux lost 84-58 to 17-ranked Kansas Saturday night. Both teams are part of the Great West Conference, which does not get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Because of this, most media outlets list the teams as independents in basketball.

Both games will be televised live on My50-TV in Albuquerque with 7 p.m. tip offs.

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