Against Air Force, UNM got a break through performance from freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood, who scored a game-high 22 points along with six rebounds, and the 17th double-double of the season from senior Drew Gordon, who scored 17 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
"I am extremely proud of our basketball team," said head coach Steve Alford. "We didn't play a lot of good basketball on the road last week and we knew that was going to be a difficult road trip to begin with. We wanted to get back home and get back to playing at the level that we had been playing at. I thought that tonight we did an awful lot of good things; we shared the basketball, we didn't turn the ball over, we dominated the glass and I thought our defense was back to being that stingy defense that we had been seeing. I'm extremely pleased and our guys know that the job is not done yet. We are one game away and 40 minutes away from getting another championship. The locker room is very excited about Saturday."
Air Force (13-14, 3-10) held a 3-2 lead seconds into the game but UNM took the lead for good on the next possession after a jumper by Gordon. Gordon scored six points over the next six minutes as the Lobos outscored the Flacons 12-4 to take a 16-6 lead. Then leading 21-11 at the 9:16 mark, New Mexico went on an 8-0 run powered primarily by treys from Greenwood and Phillip McDonald. UNM pushed the lead to 33-14 on another Gordon dunk with 2:38 left in the half. The Lobos led 40-23 at halftime.
"It was a rough road week," said Gordon after the game. "We lost to TCU and they were a good team. They have not lost at home. We knew it was going to be a fight going in against TCU and we came out on the losing side. We had to take a look at what was going wrong and what was going right. We practiced on those things and won this game."
UNM held Air Force to just 8-of-27 shooting in the first half and 4-of-13 shooting form the three point line while hitting 55% (16-of-29) of it's own shots. The Lobos hit just 4-of-13 on treys but made up for it by outscoring AFA in 20-8 in the paint in the half.
"I think Drew was going to be a big key for us (early on) because we had worked for two days on getting the ball inside," said Alford. " This game mirrored game one in that we were able to establish inside, establish ourselves defensively and we got our transition game going. I thought we did that in both games and that was going to be a key in this game because they had been playing better."
Greenwood came out in the second half and went five-of-five, hitting four three-pointers to help UNM push the lead to 54-29 with 15:33 left in the game.
The Australian was shooting so well, the Pit crowd was comically encouraging him to shoot from well beyond NBA three-point range.
"It was funny," said Greenwood. "I took a step over half-court and they are telling me to shoot it. I did have one shot there and I fell short. The teammates kept giving me the ball. Kendall Williams kept calling plays for me. That is the leadership aspect. That is what he brings to this group. If he tells me to shoot, I will shoot."
The Lobos pushed the lead all the way to 79-40 with just under 5:28 left in the game and then went on cruise control. The game was so under control that the Pit crowd began chanting for walk-on Chris Perez at the five-minute mark. Perez would enter the game with just over a minute left, scoring one point on a free throw.
UNM finished the game shooting 29-of-49 (49.2%) and 41.4% (12-of-29) on treys after shooting a stellar 8-of-16 (50%) from beyond the arc in the second half. The Lobos outscored the Falcons 28-18 in the lane and had their bench outscore AFA 31-13. New Mexico also finished with almost a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio with 21 assists and only seven turnovers – a welcomed improvement over the last two MWC games.
Gordon said Saturday's game against Boise State is a big game for him and UNM – both because it's Senior Day as well as a chance for the Lobos to grab at least a share of the Mountain West regular season title.
"Fortunately, we are playing for a ring," Gordon said. "This is big. It is a great thing for the freshman and also the sophomores who did not get one last year. It is definitely bitter-sweet. This place has treated me with the utmost respect and I had good times and bad times in here. It is going to be rough saying goodbye but I am happy to look forward to the future."