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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — Steve Alford couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic after his team’s 75-61 win at Air Force Tuesday night.
After all, he’d just become the 40th active Division I basketball coach to reach 400 career wins at the collegiate level.
“It’s exciting, and more importantly, it means I’ve been around some really good coaches,” said Alford, who is 400-216 in 20 seasons as a head coach. “Whether it was at Manchester, Missouri State, the University of Iowa or here, we’ve had success at every stop. I started when I was 26, and being in it 20 years, being able to put your stamp on programs and having the opportunity to coach some great players, that’s a good feeling.”
Drew Gordon led four Lobos in double figures with a game-high 17 points as New Mexico won its eighth straight against the Falcons and third consecutive game of the season.
New Mexico (16-7, 4-4 Mountain West), coming off Saturday’s 86-77 victory over No. 8 BYU, forced 16 turnovers and dominated virtually every phase of the game in posting its eighth win in a row over Air Force.
Kendall Williams scored 16 points, A.J. Hardeman had 12 points and Chad Adams scored 10 for the Lobos, who improved to 49-18 all-time against Air Force.
“It’s big getting the 400th win for coach,” said Williams, who hit four 3-pointers. “It’s a winning tradition that the coaches here have built, and it just feels good to be a freshman and to be a part of it.”
New Mexico, which never trailed, used seven 3-pointers and eight second-chance points in the first half to take a 43-24 lead at the break. Gordon and Williams combined for 25 of those points and were a combined 9 of 13 from the field.
The second half was more of the same, with the Lobos using an early 10-2 run to space out their lead. New Mexico led by as many as 23 points.
“We wanted to make it an athletic game,” Alford said. “That was one of the reasons we started four guards. I thought that bothered them, and we made shots early. We were able to get the game going up and down (the court), for the most part, and we were in the 70s. Anything in the 70s probably favored us.”
Mike Fitzgerald led the Falcons (12-9, 3-5) with a career-high 13 points off the bench, and Tom Fow added 12 points.
Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds spoke well of Alford and his milestone.
“That’s one heck of a milestone, so congratulations to him,” Reynolds said. “He’s had a great career, not only as a player, but as a coach and at every level.”
The Lobos owned a 26-19 rebounding edge and went 19 for 21 from the free-throw line. New Mexico scored 25 points off turnovers and had 14 second-chance points.
Air Force had a better field-goal percentage than its opponent for the ninth straight game — making 56 percent of its shots compared to 51 percent for New Mexico — but the Falcons are 4-5 in those contests.
Overall, the Falcons have lost five of their last seven.
“You want to take a better step than we did tonight,” Reynolds said. “They didn’t do anything different than we expected. Everything they did was pretty much what we knew they would run, but we just couldn’t get there fast enough. In order for us to be a good basketball team, we have to defend.”