ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Jamal Mashburn Jr. scored 24 points — seven during a crucial late surge — in No. 25 New Mexico’s 81-73 victory over Air Force on Friday night.
Jaelen House had 19 points and six steals for the Lobos (19-3, 6-3 Mountain West). Morris Edeze added 15 points and eight rebounds.
Rytis Petraitis led Air Force (12-10, 3-6) with 19 points. Ethan Taylor had 17.
“It kind of went the way I thought it would go,” New Mexico coach Richard Pitino said. “I think Air Force is much improved.”
That improvement was particularly evident in the second half.
“They were really, really running their stuff to perfection in the second half,” Pitino said. “They were cutting and getting their back doors. We needed to settle in.”,
After New Mexico twice held 12-point advantages in the first half, Air Force rallied to take its first lead 6:28 into the second half on 50-48 after Jeffrey Miles finger-rolled in a shot as he was fouled for a three-point play.
“Against a Top 25 team, you have to play a full 40 minutes,” Falcons coach Joe Scott said. “So whether it was getting down by 12, I think we did a good job of weathering that storm, more than weathering that storm, coming back.”
Air Force led 53-49 before New Mexico rallied.
“You have to do it against a really good team in a really tough environment, against really good players,” Scott said. “I think that’s what happened. So give them credit for being able to weather their storm.”
The Lobos used a 14-3 run — half of those points coming from Mashburn — to take a 76-68 lead with two minutes left.
“We were able to calm down a little bit when they were up four and pull away,” Pitino said. “It’s a terrific win.”
Mashburn was key in a first-half New Mexico run, scoring six points in an 8-0 spree that put the Lobos up 38-26.
“I think we just came out flatfooted,” Mashburn said about the Lobos’ lull to start the second half. “With this offense, you can’t be flat-footed or they’ll back cut you all day. That’s what happened. Coming out of half, we have to be better in being active and being disruptive for the first four minutes.”
New Mexico won its 13th straight over the Falcons in Albuquerque. This game marked the midpoint of the Mountain West schedule and the Lobos have their best record since the 2017-18 season. New Mexico finished that season with a 12-6 conference mark.
Air Force has not beaten a ranked team since 2013 when it upended the then-No. 12 Lobos. Overall, the Falcons have a 4-89 record against ranked teams.
Air Force committed just 12 turnovers, but nine of those were on steals, leading to 23 Lobos points and a 20-1 New Mexico advantage on fastbreak scoring.
Air Force: Hosts Boise State on Tuesday night.
New Mexico: At Utah State on Wednesday night.
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