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FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — The 18th-ranked New Mexico Lobos struggled after cracking the Top 25 following a seven-game winning streak in which they blew out their opponents by an average of 19.3 points.
The streak started with a 33-point win over Colorado State University in The Pit on Jan. 21 and ended Tuesday night with a 71-63 loss to the Rams.
The Lobos (22-5, 8-3 Mountain West) appeared to catch a big break when Colorado State center Will Bell was sidelined with a swollen left knee. Instead, the Rams (17-9, 6-5) used a four-guard lineup to throttle the red-hot Lobos.
Pierce Hornung scored 13 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and helped shut down Drew Gordon while leading Colorado State to its second straight win against a ranked team at Moby Arena.
“He was a beast. He was really good tonight,” Lobos guard Hugh Greenwood said. “He’s the glue guy for that group.”
The loss cut the Lobos’ lead in the league to 1½ games over UNLV and San Diego State and two games over Colorado State (17-9, 6-5), which burnished its own postseason credentials.
“We’ve still got a one-game lead,” Greenwood said. “With three games left, we’ve made it difficult, but if we can get these three wins, we’re still conference champions and we’re still a good seed in the NCAA tournament.”
The upset capped a whirlwind four-day stretch in which the Lobos walloped then-No. 11 UNLV by 20 points, celebrated a return to the rankings on Monday and then had a short turnaround to face the Rams, who improved to 13-1 at home and 6-0 in conference.
“No excuses. We should have won this game,” Greenwood declared.
With Bell out, Hornung did the dirty work down low and posted his third double-double of the season while helping to shut down Gordon, who was coming off a monster game against UNLV last weekend but faced constant double-teams from Hornung and the Rams’ four-guard lineup.
“He’s a big guy and he’s a talented player,” Hornung said. “He’s fun to play against.”
Hornung also had four steals as the Rams extended their winning streak to 12 straight at Moby Arena.
“I thought he was brilliant,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “With Will Bell being out, they were short-handed underneath and I thought he did an unbelievable job defending our bigs and then to be able to score, he made his free throws down the stretch, 15 rebounds. I thought he was the difference in the game.”
The Lobos lost for the first time since Jan. 21, ending a sensational stretch that started with an 85-52 wipeout of the Rams in Albuquerque, N.M.
“It’s the first time a lot of these guys have had to play being ranked and having a target on their back,” Alford said. “But I give Colorado State a lot of credit. They played a four-guard lineup that really hurt us. They defended hard and we had a hard time defending them.”
Gordon scored 13 points and had six boards but played nothing like he did last weekend, when he had a career-best 27 points and 20 boards in a 65-45 demolition of then-No. 11 UNLV on national TV that vaulted the Lobos back into the rankings at No. 18.