Great things can happen in basketball when a team stops turning the ball over.
Top-seeded New Mexico emphatically proved that Friday, blowing open a close game with a stretch of flawless basketball in a 60-50 win over San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament semifinals at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Lobos had committed seven turnovers, which the fourth-seeded Aztecs turned into 10 points, and clung to a 19-18 lead 15 minutes into the game.
New Mexico didn’t turn the ball over again until 15:22 remained in the second half. During that span, the Lobos outscored San Diego State 24-4 and essentially put the game away.
New Mexico (28-5) earned a berth in the championship game against UNLV (25-8) at 3 p.m. today.
“This team has been amazing at timeouts or halftime, when you stress something or emphasize it, of really taking it to heart and responding,” Lobos coach Steve Alford said. “We just reverted back to what I put on the board at the beginning of the game, ‘Crisp.’ This was not a team you can throw soft or lazy passes against.
“When we built that lead, we kept them out of transition, and that was a big key. We settled down and did a much better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Tony Snell, who finished with 17 points, made three straight 3-pointers in a span of 55 seconds to cap the run.
“I was just trying to be aggressive. I heard the crowd going, so that got me going,” Snell said. “They kind of backed off me a bit, so I tried to shoot the ball.”
Snell absorbed a shot from Jamaal Franklin in the second half and had to leave the game, but was able to return. He indicated he’d be able to play today.
Of course, eliminating turnovers is not a guaranteed path to victory, as San Diego State showed. The Aztecs (22-10) committed only four in the game, but made just 20 of 64 shots (31.3 percent).
Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames each scored 14 points for the Aztecs. Franklin had eight points and 12 rebounds.
New Mexico has looked every bit the top seed over two games in the tournament. The Lobos never trailed Friday or in the quarterfinals against Wyoming.
“Two games in a row where teams have shot less than 32 percent against us. Two games in a row we’ve played, in an outstanding basketball league, where we’ve not been tied or trailed,” Alford said. “That’s pretty phenomenal in 80 minutes of basketball, and that’s a great credit to what our guys have done defensively.”
Forward Cameron Bairstow (6 feet 9 inches) added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Lobos, and 7-foot center Alex Kirk had 15 points and seven rebounds.
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said those two interior players also wreaked havoc on his team’s offense.
“Their bigs gave us trouble at our end. Against a lot of teams, we can get to the rim with a chance for baskets or fouls,” Fisher said. “They made it hard for us to get shots on the rim with their length, size and aggressiveness.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.