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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — With his team trailing by double digits at halftime, New Mexico coach Steve Alford could have tried to make some major adjustments.
Instead, he told the Lobos to play the way they usually do.
Kendall Williams scored 13 points, capped by an emphatic dunk just before the final buzzer, and No. 19 New Mexico overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat Fresno State’s Bulldogs 54-48 on Wednesday night.
“It was just our guys,” Alford said. “They got the job done. When you’re down 11 at the half on the road and then play the way we played in the second half, it was outstanding. These guys, they just find a way. You shoot 37 percent and still get a road win.”
Alex Kirk had 10 points, nine rebounds and six blocks for the Lobos (21-4, 8-2 Mountain West Conference). Tony Snell also scored 10, and his 18-foot leaner with 20 seconds left sealed the victory as New Mexico remained a half-game ahead of second-place Colorado State in the conference standings.
Kevin Olekaibe led Fresno State (8-15, 2-8) with 11 points, while Kevin Foster had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Foster scored all his points in the first half.
The Bulldogs scored only three points, on Olekaibe’s 3-pointer, in the final 10:08.
“When you’re on the road and hold your opponent to 1 of 12 (field goals) in the last 10 minutes, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win,” Alford said. “We just grind it.”
After Olekaibe’s shot put Fresno State ahead 48-45 with 3:46 remaining, the Lobos pulled within one on a layup by Cameron Bairstow.
Kirk then blocked a shot on the other end, which led to a 3-point attempt by Hugh Greenwood. The shot missed, but Greenwood grabbed the offensive rebound and threaded a bounce pass to Bairstow for a dunk with 1:28 left that put the Lobos ahead for good.
“It was a loose ball, so I knew something was going to be open,” Greenwood said. “I just knew he was there and I threw it under him.”
Alford was more complimentary of Greenwood’s pass, which skipped past several defenders.
“A lot of guys just dribble back out,” Alford said. “But he saw Cam and made a great pass.”
Greenwood made one of two free throws with 53 seconds to go for a two-point New Mexico lead, and the Lobos maintained possession when the miss went off a Fresno State player out of bounds.
New Mexico then milked most of the 35-second shot clock before Snell’s jumper made it a four-point game.
“It’s bagging road wins,” Alford said. “We’re sitting at the top of the league not just in wins but in most road wins. We’re plus-three now, 3-2 on the road with three road games to go, and that’s huge.”
Fresno State scored just 17 points in the second half on 26.9 percent shooting. The Bulldogs have not defeated a Top 25 team since 2002.
“In this league you have to play for 40 minutes; you can’t play for 38 or leave 3 extra minutes out there without finishing it out,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “At the end of the day you have to make shots, too.”
New Mexico used the first 9 minutes of the first half to whittle away at an 11-point halftime deficit.
The Lobos finally went ahead 41-40 with 11:02 remaining when Snell found Williams along the baseline for a dunk.
Fresno State answered right back, regaining the lead on Marvelle Harris’ drive. But the Bulldogs, who average the fewest points in the MWC, didn’t score for the next 6:59.
Fresno State led 31-20 at halftime after limiting the Lobos to 25.9 percent shooting. Those 31 points represented the Bulldogs’ highest-scoring first half during conference play. Fresno State scored 22 of those points in the final 7:30.
“It was really, really, really quiet (at halftime),” Kirk said. “We had to come in, come together as a team and focus a little bit. That’s what we did. It was a lot better second half.”
New Mexico led by as many as eight before Fresno State went on a 14-0 run sparked by two jumpers from Harris and capped by Olekaibe’s 3-pointer.
After Kirk made two free throws to stop New Mexico’s 4:46 scoring drought, Olekaibe and Foster extended the Bulldogs’ lead to double digits at halftime.
The Lobos lost key reserve Demetrius Walker late in the first half to a knee injury after he crashed into two defenders under the basket. He did not return and will be evaluated by team doctors, Alford said.