FRESNO, Calif. – Fresno State has absorbed several tough lessons this season under second-year coach Rodney Terry.
Wednesday night was one of the toughest. After leading No. 19 New Mexico by 11 points at halftime, the Bulldogs scored just 17 in the second half and lost 54-48 to the Mountain West Conference leaders.
Fresno State shot 26.9 percent after halftime and missed a chance for its first victory over a Top 25 team since 2002.
"In this league you have to play for 40 minutes; you can't play for 38 or leave 3 extra minutes out there without finishing it out," Terry said. "At the end of the day you have to make shots, too. I said to our guys a little while ago, we've learned some really tough lessons this year."
Kendall Williams scored 13 points, capped by an emphatic dunk just before the final buzzer, and Alex Kirk added 10 points, nine rebounds and six blocks for the Lobos (21-4, 8-2 Mountain West).
Tony Snell also scored 10, and his 18-foot leaner with 20 seconds left sealed the victory as New Mexico remained a half-game ahead of second-place Colorado State in the conference standings.
"When you're down 11 at the half on the road and you play the way we played in the second half, it was outstanding," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "These guys, they just find a way. You shoot 37 percent and still get a road win."
Kevin Olekaibe led Fresno State (8-15, 2-8) with 11 points, while Kevin Foster had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Foster scored all of his points in the first half.
The Bulldogs scored only three points, on Olekaibe's 3-pointer, in the final 10:08.
"We knew that their coach was going to get on them at halftime, and they were going to come out with fire," Olekaibe said. "We just have to try and master our intensity in the second half."
After Olekaibe's shot put Fresno State ahead 48-45 with 3:46 remaining, the Lobos pulled within one on a layup by Cameron Bairstow.
Kirk then blocked a shot on the other end, which led to a 3-point attempt by Hugh Greenwood. The shot missed, but Greenwood grabbed the offensive rebound and threaded a bounce pass to Bairstow for a dunk with 1:28 left that put the Lobos ahead for good.
"It was a loose ball, so I knew something was going to be open," Greenwood said. "I just knew he was there and I threw it under him."
Alford was more complimentary of Greenwood's pass, which skipped past several defenders.
"A lot of guys just dribble back out," Alford said. "But he saw Cam and made a great pass."
Greenwood made one of two free throws with 53 seconds to go for a two-point New Mexico lead, and the Lobos maintained possession when the miss went off a Fresno State player out of bounds.
New Mexico then milked most of the 35-second shot clock before Snell's jumper made it a four-point game.
"It's bagging road wins," Alford said. "We're sitting at the top of the league not just in wins but in most road wins. We're plus-three now, 3-2 on the road with three road games to go, and that's huge."
New Mexico used the first 9 minutes of the first half to whittle away at an 11-point halftime deficit. The Lobos finally went ahead 41-40 with 11:02 remaining when Snell found Williams along the baseline for a dunk.
Fresno State answered right back, regaining the lead on Marvelle Harris' drive. But the Bulldogs, who average the fewest points in the MWC, didn't score for the next 6:59.
Fresno State led 31-20 at halftime after limiting the Lobos to 25.9 percent shooting. Those 31 points represented the Bulldogs' highest-scoring first half during conference play. Fresno State scored 22 of those points in the final 7:30.
"It was really, really, really quiet (at halftime)," Kirk said. "We had to come in, come together as a team and focus a little bit. That's what we did. It was a lot better second half."
New Mexico led by as many as eight before Fresno State went on a 14-0 run sparked by two jumpers from Harris and capped by Olekaibe's 3-pointer.
After Kirk made two free throws to stop New Mexico's 4:46 scoring drought, Olekaibe and Foster extended the Bulldogs' lead to double digits at halftime.
The Lobos lost key reserve Demetrius Walker late in the first half to a knee injury after he crashed into two defenders under the basket. He did not return and will be evaluated by team doctors, Alford said.