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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — Still stinging from back-to-back losses to the Mountain West’s other heavyweights, the New Mexico Lobos are taking out their frustrations on everyone else.
The Lobos got 13 points from both Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams Tuesday night when they handed Air Force an 81-42 drubbing, its most lopsided home loss ever.
With their third straight double-digit win, the Lobos (18-4, 4-2) moved within a half-game of conference co-leaders No. 11 UNLV and No. 17 San Diego State, the two schools that handed them early losses in league play.
“Those two letdowns obviously showed us what we need to work on,” Gordon said.
And they’ve worked on those things very well, indeed.
“I’m very pleased with this team,” Lobos coach Steve Alford said. “We’ve had one bad week and really the bad week was a bad half, the second half of both games. Other than that, this team from Thanksgiving week on, when we were in L.A., has gotten better and better, and tonight we clicked on all cylinders.
“We played 11 guys, all 11 guys scored. You know, this (Air Force) team is the same team that took UNLV into overtime three nights ago. We never had a deal where we had to play from behind. We came in here and led for 40 minutes, so you do that in this building, you’ve got to be really pleased.”
This was the second-biggest margin of victory on the road in a conference game for New Mexico, bested only by the Lobos’ 90-48 rout of BYU in 1997 when they were in the Western Athletic Conference.
Phillip McDonald and Demetrius Walker each added 11 points for the Lobos, who led by as many as 44 points.
The Falcons (11-9, 1-5) lost their fifth straight. Their previous worst loss at home was by 38 points in a 90-52 loss to BYU last Feb. 9.
The Lobos took a 40-19 cushion into the locker room at halftime, not what the Falcons and their fans were expecting after the scare Air Force put unto UNLV on Saturday in outplaying the Rebels, who escaped Clune Arena with a 65-63 win in overtime.
“I don’t really have a true explanation,” Falcons forward Mike Fitzgerald said. “I can tell you that it’s very disheartening as a team to get so close to beating a ranked team like UNLV and to come out today and just not bring it. New Mexico played a great game. They came to play from the start. They hit us, and we couldn’t hit back.”
New Mexico jumped out to a 17-7 lead in a lethargic first half for Air Force, when the Falcons missed 15 of their first 18 shots and kept settling for long-range jumpers — only to go 2 for 14 from beyond the arc.
It wasn’t until Max Yon, the only Falcon in double figures with a season-best 11 points, hit a 3-pointer with 5:59 left before halftime that the Falcons reached double digits, but they still trailed 24-12 at that point.
And it never got better.
“I didn’t think we had any energy or effort and didn’t think our execution was good, either,” Falcons coach Jeff Reynolds said.
The Lobos weren’t satisfied with their fantastic first half. As they filed off the court with halftime interrupting a 16-6 spurt, Alford was pumped up, shouting, “Come on!” to Gordon, encouraging his star to keep things going after the break.
“We were up 21 at half, but it’s all about us getting better,” Alford explained. “And that’s what we talked about at the half. We pretend like it’s 0-0. Obviously, it’s not. You’ve done a lot of work, you don’t want to cheapen what our guys have done. They did a lot of work in the first half. But you’ve got to come out and complete it. We’ve had big leads in here before only to have a dogfight.”
Not on this night.
New Mexico stretched its lead to 57-26 on Gordon’s steal-and-slam bucket and to 64-28 on reserve Cameron Bairstow’s bucket. A 3 by Walker made it 79-35 in the waning minutes.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Williams said, “so we’re not going to take anything for granted.”
Not even a huge halftime lead.
Alford said he never saw this type of dominant performance coming, “but we’ve been playing well.”
The Falcons had been, too, and Reynolds certainly didn’t forecast this one-sided game, either, although he certainly feared it.
“We had a good practice yesterday and a good shootaround, so I didn’t envision this at all,” he said. “I worried about it. I guess I didn’t a good enough job of trying to overcome it.”