120218-drew-gordon

New Mexico now MWC’s favorite, but are they best out west?

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UNLV is not a very good road team. That much we knew heading into their Saturday afternoon (well, Saturday morning for those out west) matchup with New Mexico in Albequerque.

Considering that the Lobos are playing their best basketball of the season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that New Mexico was able to beat No. 11 UNLV. In other words, if I was a betting man, I would have put my money on Steve Alford’s club.

What was surprising, however, was just how badly New Mexico beat down the Rebels. After trailing 27-26 at the end of the first half and finding themselves tied at 36 with 12 minutes left in the game, the Lobos used a 12-0 run to spark a 29-9 surge that closed the game, winning 65-45.

New Mexico’s defense was, once again, stifling. UNLV finished the game shooting 31.1% from the floor and 6-21 from three while turning the ball over 15 times. Over the final 12 minutes, as the Lobos made the game’s deciding run, UNLV was just 2-9 from the floor with six turnovers. At one point, the Lobos forced turnovers on four consecutive possessions, which sparked the game’s deciding run.

It is now official. New Mexico is the best team in the Mountain West. That’s what happens when, in the span of four days, you put together dominating wins over the two other contenders while taking over sole possession of first place in the league standings. On Wednesday, New Mexico beat San Diego State 77-67.

There is more to it that simply having the best record in the Mountain West. New Mexico looks like they may actually be the best team out west.

The biggest reason has been the recent play of Drew Gordon. After going for 17 points and 17 boards against SDSU, Gordon went for 27 points and 20 boards on 13-20 shooting against the Rebs. He was absolutely unstoppable on the block, and it wasn’t just because he was putting back offensive rebounds or finding himself on the finishing end of an alley-oop. Gordon was scoring with his back to the basket, which is something the big man hasn’t done consistently in his time with the Lobos.

With Kendall Williams and Jamal Fenton helping to make up for the recent struggles of Tony Snell, New Mexico has plenty of talent — and shooting — on the perimeter to keep the floor spread.

Throw in a talented bench rotation and plenty of size, and the MWC’s preseason favorite is finally starting to play like it.

This is a group with the horses to be a serious threat come March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 23 USC falls at Arizona State

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley applauds the efforts of his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
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No. 23 USC missed a golden opportunity to make up a game in the Pac-12 standings on Friday night.

No. 11 Oregon lost to Colorado on Thursday night, dropping back into a tie for first place in the league with the Trojans, a game ahead of No. 17 Arizona. But USC fell at Arizona State, 74-67, keeping them a game off of the pace that the Ducks have set.

The loss is even more painful when you consider that, on Sunday, the Trojans will be making the trip to Tucson to take on Arizona. The Wildcats are not what we have become accustomed to seeing under Sean Miller, but they are still a top 25 team and the McKale Center is still one of the toughest places in the country to get a win.

Thanks to Friday’s loss, instead of entering McKale with an outside chance of taking over sole possession of first place in the league, USC will have top hope they don’t fall two games off the pace.

As far as the game itself was concerned, USC committed 17 turnovers, shot 2-for-11 from three and gave up 16 offensive rebounds to Arizona State. That’s how you lose a game where you shoot better than 51 percent from the floor. USC was just never able to consistently get out into transition, and that caused them to struggle executing in the half court.

Nikola Jovanovic led the way with 25 points and 15 boards for USC.

Tra Holder’s 20 points made the difference for Arizona State, who kept themselves within striking distance of an at-large bid with the win.

Davis helps No. 19 Dayton beat Rhode Island 68-66

Dayton's Scoochie Smith (11) drives past Rhode Island's Jarvis Garrett (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Kingston, R.I., on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin)
(AP Photo/Joe Giblin)
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KINGSTON, R.I. (AP) Darrell Davis made a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner with 21.1 seconds left and No. 19 Dayton beat Rhode Island 68-66 on Friday night.

Rhode Island’s Four McGlynn missed a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left. Dayton got the rebound, and Steve McElvene made one of two free throws for the Flyers with 0.3 seconds to go.

Dyshawn Pierre led Dayton (21-3, 11-1 Atlantic 10) with 17 points and also had nine rebounds. Scoochie Smith added 16 points, and Davis finished with eight.

The Flyers won their ninth straight game and ended a six-game losing streak in Kingston.

McGlynn had 19 points for Rhode Island (14-11, 6-6). Hassan Martin added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

There were 17 lead changes, three in the final 55 seconds.

Pierre made two free throws with 55 seconds left to give the Flyers a one-point lead. Martin countered for the Rams with a three-point play 40 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Dayton: Dayton’s 21-3 start is its best since also opening 21-3 in 2008-09. … The Flyers shot 52.0 percent, going 26 of 50.

Rhode Island: Rhode Island’s six Atlantic 10 losses have been by a combined 30 points. … Martin made his 15th career double-double.

UP NEXT:

Dayton: at Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night.

Rhode Island: at VCU on Tuesday night.