The San Diego State Aztecs lost to the New Mexico Lobos 70-60 on Wednesday night at The Pit in Albuquerque.
With two games remaining on the conference schedule, the win almost assures that New Mexico will be Mountain West champions as they moved to 24-4 overall and 11-2 in conference. The Aztecs fall to 20-8 overall and 8-6 in conference.
The win also gave New Mexico a bit of revenge for the 55-34 loss that the Lobos suffered at Viejas Arena to the Aztecs in January, and the difference on Wednesday night was New Mexico center Alex Kirk.
Kirk, a 7-foot, 250-pound redshirt sophomore, scored just two points in the first meeting on 1-of-8 shooting from the field. On Wednesday night, he scored 25 points, including all three of his 3-point attempts and all six of his free throws. He also finished the game with seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
New Mexico’s other big man, Cameron Bairstow, added 16 points and six rebounds. He was held scoreless in the first matchup between these two teams.
Coming into the game, a big question was how hot Kendall Williams might be following his 46 point effort at Colorado State last Saturday – especially considering that Nevada’s Malik Story lit up SDSU with 33 points that same day.
The Aztecs actually did a nice job of defending Williams, whose five points at halftime all came from the free-throw line. Williams finished just 1-of-6 from the floor for eight points, but he also handed out eight assists and pulled down six rebounds.
But because of the big nights from Kirk and Bairstow, the Lobos didn’t really need the perimeter scoring of Williams. Tony Snell added 10 points for New Mexico.
Jamaal Franklin led the Aztecs with 16 points and nine rebounds. JJ O’Brien added 10 points and eight rebounds, but had a difficult time matching up down low on defense with Kirk.
Chase Tapley was quiet, with just seven points on 2-of-6 shooting. The Aztecs as a team shot just 36-percent from the field, including a miserable 4-of-24 on their 3-point attempts.
The Aztecs trailed the Lobos by just two at half when it was 28-26, but New Mexico took control of the game early in the second half. Eight minutes into the second half, the Lobos had outscored the Aztecs 20-7 to take a 48-33 lead.
After being down by as many as 15 points in the second half, the Aztecs actually pulled within five points following a James Rahon layup to make it 54-49 with 4:31 left in the game. But they couldn’t get any closer as Bairstow and Kirk continued to dominate down low and the Lobos hit the free throws that mattered at the end.