ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico coach Steve Alford has come to expect strong defense from his 17th-ranked Lobos. Still, their latest effort took him by surprise.
New Mexico blocked a season-high 11 shots and outrebounded taller New Mexico State by four in a 73-58 victory Saturday.
“Our guys love challenges,” Alford said. “I don’t think we thought about having 11 blocks. I would just as soon have maybe six blocks and six charges but be that as it may, 11 blocks is a lot of blocks in a game. And it came from a lot of different people.”
The bulk of them came from Alex Kirk, who equaled his career high with five, and guard Hugh Greenwood, who had a career-best four.
That surprised Aggies coach Marvin Menzies, as well.
“We didn’t expect that,” he said. “They were fantastically more aggressive than we had seen from that perspective. We didn’t help ourselves any by driving into a 7-footer (Kirk) thinking that he has no lift. But he has natural height so we have to be a little more in tune with where we’re going.”
New Mexico’s work on the boards came against a team that had been outrebounding opponents by a comfortable margin.
“This was a team with a plus-10 rebound average,” Alford said. “And we beat them four on the glass, so we did a lot of good things.”
That was a big key, Menzies said.
“They threw the first punch tonight and it was clear that they were the aggressor,” he said. “A telling statistic is rebounding. Any time you’re outrebounded, typically the team is a little more aggressive, usually a little tougher. And they just out-toughed us tonight on the glass, which is an area that we take a lot of pride in.”
Kirk scored 15 points, while Kendall Williams also had 15 points as well a career-high eight rebounds and seven assists for New Mexico (11-0). Chad Adams added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Seven of Kirk’s points came during a decisive 11-2 run midway through the first half that turned a 17-14 lead into a 28-16 advantage.
Daniel Mullings scored 14 to lead New Mexico State (5-5) but he was the only Aggies player in double figures.
The Aggies shot just 32.8 percent from the field. New Mexico State went 8 for 30 in the second half and made four of 16 3-pointers.
The Lobos turned it over a season-low six times and shot 7 of 13 on 3-pointers while also going 26 for 35 from the foul line.
“I thought our energy was really good,” Alford said. “I thought our concentration was outstanding. And we did the things we’ve been doing. We outrebounded a very good team. We took care of the basketball and we got to the free throw line.”