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March 15, 2011And now the New Mexico Lobos roll on to play at Alabama.
Proving that they could win without senior Dairese Gary, the Lobos beat Texas-El Paso 69-57 Tuesday night in the Pit in the first round of the NIT.
They don't know when, but the Lobos play at Alabama sometime over the weekend in the second round.
UNM improved to 22-12 by using the bench freely with all nine scholarship players scoring in the first half. In the end, New Mexico dominated the rebounding 41-26 and UTEP shot just 18.8 percent from 3-point range as the crucial differences in the game.
With Gary sitting on the bench because of a torn ACL he suffered last Friday in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament, there were questions about who would step up and run the team. Gary is the only senior.
No one person took over. Sophomore Jamal Fenton started for the first time and had six assists, but he was just 1 for 7 from the floor. Freshman Kendall Williams had 18 points with eight of those coming at the foul line.
Drew Gordon had a typical game with 18 points and nine rebounds and Phillip McDonald showed signs of coming out of a slump with a pair of key 3-pointers in the second half.
``I told Dairese before the game that for the last 130 starts, I had been really comfortable knowing who was in charge. This time I was uneasy,'' UNM coach Steve Alford explained.
The Lobos had 14 turnovers, which isn't particularly high. ``Our offense was really good,'' Alford noted. ``We had good balance inside and out.''
``I got more comfortable tonight. I'm in the front seat now,'' Fenton said . ``Coach said for me to give the fans what they want to see.''
This was the last home game of the season for the Lobos. NIT games are played on the floors of the higher ranked teams and as a four seed the Lobos won't be the higher seed again.
``We've got eight months before we play in the Pit again,'' Alford noted. ``We didn't want to sit on a loss at home for eight months.''