The loss was SDSU's first at home to an unranked opponent in 44 games and just the Aztecs' second home loss this season.
"I think this team has been under appreciated," said head coach Steve Alford in this post-game comments on 770 KKOB-AM. "I've been fighting for this team all year long because I know how good they can be. I think we're playing our best basketball of the year at the right time. We're starting to get in a groove and we're healthy."
"It was a pivotal game," Alford said. "I'm just really proud of the way our guys competed. They fought and I thought every time they made a run we had an answer, either in a defense stop or an offensive score."
The Lobos seized the initiative in the first half but San Diego State looked to make it a game early in the second half. The Aztecs opened the second half on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 38-38with 18:26 left in the game.
But UNM responded with a 16-1 run of their own, powered by consecutive treys –one by Chad Adams and a pair from Kendall Williams to take a 54-39 with 13:53 left in the game.
"I thought this game, when you're playing a ranked team on their floor… this isn't an easy place to play,' said Alford. And pretty much from five minutes into the second half we're up ten the whole night."
San Diego State would make one final charge behind the shooting of guard Chase Tapley, who scored all seven of his points in the Aztecs' final run. Tapley hit a trey and a lay up to get SDSU to within 6 points, 70-64 with 2:34 left in the game. With the Aztecs' raucous crowd back in the game, the momentum appeared to be in their favor. But after a timely timeout called by Alford at the 2:12 mark, SDSU's Tim Shelton missed a wide-open lay up and Gordon responded with a 15-foot jumper on the other end. After another Shelton miss, Jamal Fenton gave UNM what would be an insurmountable 74-64 lead with a pair of free throws with exactly a minute left in the game. SDSU made trey but Fenton and Gordon made three free throws down the stretch to conclude the scoring.
"You know, all season people have been talking about San Diego State and UNLV going at it, so this is a nice win to put us solely in first," said Gordon.
The Lobos trailed early but Williams' second trey of the night followed by a lay up by Gordon put UNM in the lead for good at 8-7 with 15:40 left in the first half. Benefiting from a strange technical foul call on Jamal Franklin, who smashed Patrick McDonald in the face while trying to knock the ball off a Lobo player, the Lobos pushed the lead to 27-17 with just under nine minutes to play in the half before SDSU mounted a comeback. The Aztecs cut the lead to 31-29 on a pair of Tim Shelton free throws with 2:13 left in the half. Williams hit a trey and a jumper to push the lead back to seven points at 36-29 with 50 seconds left. But SDSU's Xavier Thames hit three free throws to cut the leave UNM with a 36-32 lead at halftime.
"I think we'll get a little bit more recognition for being in the hunt to win the conference," said Gordon. "It was a good win for us and we basically dictate our own fate from here on out."
New Mexico faces UNLV Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in game broadcast regionally on CBS. The game is already a sell out.
The Rebels (22-5, 6-3) are currently tied for second with SDSU after the Rebels' 102-97 overtime loss at TCU Tuesday night. The Lobos will be looking to extend their current six-game winning streak while getting payback for a 80-63 loss at UNLV in January