No. 18 New Mexico went into Tuesday’s game against Colorado State as arguably the hottest team in the country.
They had won seven games in a row. Those seven wins came by an average of 19.3 ppg. The last two, which came in the span of four days last week, were against San Diego State and UNLV, the other two contenders in the Mountain West. Those wins were by an average of 15.0 ppg. When the dust finally settled, the Lobos went from being an afterthought in Mountain West race to having a two-game lead on the field.
And based on the way that they celebrated the UNLV win, it shouldn’t be surprising that New Mexico came out flat against Colorado State. The Rams held New Mexico to 36.7% shooting from the floor, forced 17 turnovers and picked up a monstrous, 71-63 win over the Lobos. The hero was Pierce Hornung, who finished with 13 points and 15 boards while playing the primary role is slowing down Drew Gordan. after averaging 22.0 ppg and 18.5 rpg last week, the 13 points and six boards he has on Tuesday seem irrelevant.
The enormity of this win cannot be overstated. Colorado State had a terrific computer profile coming in (they were top 30 in the RPI and have a SOS in the top 15 prior to tip off), but they didn’t necessarily have the big wins to back it up. So now, not only does Colorado State climb back over .500 in conference play, they can now claim victories over San Diego State and the Lobos.
The work is far from finished — the Rams head to SDSU on Saturday and host UNLV next Wednesday — but at this point, one win in those two games will likely be enough.
For New Mexico, the loss isn’t a huge concern. In fact, with their bubble status all but locked up, it may be a blessing in disguise. The Lobos look like they were starting to believe the hype surrounding their team. Sometimes the best was to bring a team back to earth is to get punch in the mouth, and that’s exactly what happened against Colorado State.
The bigger concern is New Mexico’s lack of a go-to scorer. In crunch time, at the end of a clock when you really need a basket, who are you going to turn to on this team? Kendall Williams? Jamal Fenton? Tony Snell? Drew Gordon?
Do you trust any of those four to make a big play down the stretch? As much as anything, that is where New Mexico misses Dairese Gary the most.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.