Elijah Brown overcame a slow start to lead the Lobos to victory over the Boise State Broncos 78-73 on Tuesday night at Wise Pies Arena, AKA the Pit.
Brown scored 17 of UNM’s final 19 points, including two clutch free throws with 17 seconds left on the clock to secure the win for the Lobos.
Guard Damien Jefferson and center Obij Aget joined Brown in double figures with 14 points apiece, with Aget making seven of eight attempts from the floor.
“I thought our guys were terrific,” said head coach Craig Neal after the game. “I thought they played with a lot of energy and effort. I thought they were really in-tune with what we were trying to do.”
Although the Lobos managed to make only one three-point basket in the first half, stellar defensive play mixed with poor shooting from the floor by the Broncos resulted in a 10-point lead at the break for the home team.
Boise State outscored the Lobos by five in the second half, fueled by three triples by Marcus Dickinson. But the Lobos never relinquished the lead from the opening tip on their way to a ninth conference win of the season.
With the win, the Lobos are now just one game behind conference-leading Colorado State with four games to go. An impressive feat considering Neal lost arguably his best player when Tim Williams left with a foot injury in January.
“We handled the pressure and made our free-throws. I thought our guys played well. Our defense was good and we’re making strides,” said Neal.
Free throws proved to be a deciding factor in the game as UNM enjoyed a plus-nine advantage over Boise State in that category. The team as a whole has improved their free throw shooting, something that was an Achilles heel for the team in disappointing home losses to Nevada and UNLV.
The Lobos continue their conference schedule on the road against Fresno State on Saturday night. Likely out of contention for the regular season title, the 6-7 Bulldogs will look to play spoilers at Save Mart Center.