ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Keith McGee scored a career-high 20 points for New Mexico, which sandwiched a 28-4 run around halftime Wednesday to a turn a close game with San Jose State into a 92-60 rout.
Three other players reached the teens for the Lobos (11-13, 5-7 Mountain West), with Corey Manigault scoring 17.
Noah Baumann scored 10 to lead the Spartans (3-20, 0-11).
The game was tied eight times in the early going, with 12 lead changes before New Mexico took charge.
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“San José can really do that to you, especially at the outset of game,” New Mexico coach Paul Weir said. “I thought they did a good job of doing some things to prevent us from getting in a rhythm. And we needed our defense to carry us and quite frankly in the first 20 minutes, our defense just wasn’t doing it.”
But Vance Jackson’s consecutive 3-pointers late in the first half sparked the pivotal run for the Lobos that also included eight points from Manigault. By the time Craig LeCense hit a jumper for the Spartans at the 13:53 mark, the lead was up to 55-36.
“It’s pretty simple,” Spartans coach Jean Prioleau said. “We turned the ball over. That’s how the run happens. That’s been the story the whole year.”
New Mexico had lost four of five entering the game.
The Lobos unwound its running game, holding a 35-2 fastbreak advantage and a 14-2 advantage on points off of turnovers.
And while Prioleau pointed to turnovers as the difference in the run, he was fairly happy with the team’s overall success in that area, noting three turnovers occurred late with the deeper end of the bench on the floor.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, we’re not that bad,” he said. “That’s only one part of the game. But if we can continue to do that, we can worry about everything else like guarding the ball, taking charges, rebounding, all that other stuff. Right now, we have to take care of the ball.”
New Mexico’s ability to come out strong defensively to start the second half helped keep the run going, Weir said.
“I thought the defense to start the second half was really good,” he said. “I thought we came back out of half time and really guarded. I think that set the tone for the game. I wanted that to be the first few minutes of the game, but I thought we did it in the second half and particularly to open the second half is when I thought the game changed.”
San Jose State: The Spartans are trying to avoid becoming a repeat member of a rather exclusive club that went winless in conference play. San José State lost all 18 of its Mountain West games in the 2014-15 season. San Diego State, Colorado State and Air Force also have winless conference seasons in their past.
New Mexico: If the Lobos are to make a run into the top half of the Mountain West the time is now as its remaining opponents hold a 28-38 conference mark. That includes a return engagement with San José State on Feb. 26.
There was some question whether Lobos leading scorer Anthony Mathis would play Wednesday as he’s been suffering from a lower back injury the past week-plus. But he entered the game 2:18 into the first half, finishing with 16 points in 25 minutes.
San José State forward Michael Steadman was escorted off the floor by a Spartans assistant coach with 5:52 remaining after he was forcibly restrained from going into the student section of the stands nearest the team’s bench. At least one New Mexico fan was removed the arena by event staff. A fan in the area said the other ejected fan made inappropriate comments about Steadman’s family.
San José State goes home to meet UNLV on Saturday.
The Lobos remain home to face Fresno State on Saturday.
“This is a really a build up to Saturday,” Weir said. “That’s obviously a big game. If we can build and take some things from this that’s going to help us Saturday, then this would have been a good game for us but if we’re not able to kind of take this forward and use it in a positive way in our next game then it was just one isolated independent game.”
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