ALBUQUERQUE – There was a near brawl and a near comeback, it just didn’t happen to be nearly enough to change the end result as Air Force suffered another lopsided loss at The Pit.
The Falcons twice chopped No. 15 New Mexico’s 16-point deficit to six midway through the second half before ultimately falling 81-58 on Wednesday night.
“They’re a very physical team, very good defensive team, and it was a heated game,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said.
The skirmish that led to three technical fouls and a nearly 5-minute stoppage in play started when the Lobos’ Jamal Fenton and Air Force’s Kyle Green bumped into each other while leaving the court for a timeout. Both were assessed technical fouls.
“We just bumped into each other running off, it wasn’t that big a deal,” Green said. “I don’t fault him. We just ran into each other.”
But the confrontation was only beginning. New Mexico coaches felt Air Force assistant Steve Snell yelled at Fenton, prompting Lobos coach Steve Alford and several on his staff to come after Snell.
"The exchange of coaches came just because we had heard an assistant talk to one of our guys,” Alford said. “I'm not going to sit back and let that happen. I think that kind of made things get a little bit escalated and heated."
New Mexico’s Kendall Williams also received a technical foul during the tense exchange.
Such a confrontation was bound to happen with the way things on the floor had transpired.
The Lobos, dominating on the inside early, built a 13-point halftime lead. Air Force came out determined not to allow anything easy on the inside and wound up fouling nearly every time the ball came into the paint. New Mexico ended up shooting 20 free throws in the second half, was in the bonus by the 14:30 mark and hit just one field goal over the first 10 minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, the Falcons crept back into the game, pulling to within six on two occasions with 3-pointers by Marek Olesinski and Kyle Green.
Empty possessions followed each bucket and the momentum didn’t last.
“We felt like we had them backed up a little bit,” Pilipovich said. “Maybe we exhausted it and we didn’t have anything left.”
After the confrontation the Lobos went on an 8-0 run and put the game away.
All five of New Mexico’s starters scored in double figures, with Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Tony Snell each netting 14.
Michael Lyons and Mike Fitzgerald each scored 16 for Air Force.
The Falcons are now 0-13 against New Mexico under Alford and have been outscored 167-114 over their past two trips to The Pit.