No. 18 Lobos lose 71-63 at Colorado State

ARNIE STAPLETON AP Sports Writer Published:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) -- The 18th-ranked New Mexico Lobos struggled after cracking the Top 25 following a seven-game winning streak in which they blew out their opponents by an average of 19.3 points.

The streak started with a 33-point win over Colorado State in The Pit on Jan. 21 and ended Tuesday night with a 71-63 loss to the Rams.

The Lobos (22-5, 8-3 Mountain West) appeared to catch a big break when Colorado State center Will Bell was sidelined with a swollen left knee. Instead, the Rams (17-9, 6-5) used a four-guard lineup to throttle the red-hot Lobos.

Pierce Hornung scored 13 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and helped shut down Drew Gordon while leading Colorado State to its second straight win against a ranked team at Moby Arena.

"He was a beast. He was really good tonight," Lobos guard Hugh Greenwood said. "He's the glue guy for that group."

The loss cut the Lobos' lead in the league to 1½ games over UNLV and San Diego State and two games over Colorado State (17-9, 6-5), which burnished its own postseason credentials.

"We've still got a one-game lead," Greenwood said. "With three games left, we've made it difficult, but if we can get these three wins, we're still conference champions and we're still a good seed in the NCAA tournament."

The upset capped a whirlwind four-day stretch in which the Lobos walloped then-No. 11 UNLV by 20 points, celebrated a return to the rankings on Monday and then had a short turnaround to face the Rams, who improved to 13-1 at home and 6-0 in conference.

"No excuses. We should have won this game," Greenwood declared.

With Bell out, Hornung did the dirty work down low and posted his third double-double of the season while helping to shut down Gordon, who was coming off a monster game against UNLV last weekend but faced constant double-teams from Hornung and the Rams' four-guard lineup.

"He's a big guy and he's a talented player," Hornung said. "He's fun to play against."

Hornung also had four steals as the Rams extended their winning streak to 12 straight at Moby Arena.

"I thought he was brilliant," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "With Will Bell being out, they were short-handed underneath and I thought he did an unbelievable job defending our bigs and then to be able to score, he made his free throws down the stretch, 15 rebounds. I thought he was the difference in the game."

The Lobos lost for the first time since Jan. 21, ending a sensational stretch that started with an 85-52 wipeout of the Rams in Albuquerque, N.M.

"It's the first time a lot of these guys have had to play being ranked and having a target on their back," Alford said. "But I give Colorado State a lot of credit. They played a four-guard lineup that really hurt us. They defended hard and we had a hard time defending them."

Gordon scored 13 points and had six boards but really played nothing like he did last weekend, when he had a career-best 27 points and 20 boards in a 65-45 demolition of then-No. 11 UNLV on national TV that vaulted the Lobos back into rankings at No. 18.

He kept turning the ball over in the paint -- six times in all -- and had a tough time finding shots much less the basket for much of the night.

In the first of three straight games against ranked teams, the Rams pulled away late, building a 60-52 lead thanks to a 6-0 run in which Hornung sank two free throws and a basket.

Gordon's three-point play with 3:22 left made it a five-point game, but when the Lobos had a chance to pull within three, Gordon slipped going to the basket and the ball bounced out of bounds. And Hornung's layup at the other end made it 62-55.

The Lobos trimmed their deficit to 67-63 on Kendall Williams' 3-pointer with 31 seconds left but got no closer. Dorian Green, who led the Rams with 17 points, sank two free throws, and after yet another turnover by the Lobos, Hornung capped his spectacular night with a dunk with 6 seconds left.

Williams led New Mexico with 16 points despite missing 10 of 13 shots and Demetrius Walker had 14.

The Lobos, who had to take out forward A.J. Hardeman late in the game to match up against Colorado State's four-guard lineup, came out flat offensively in Fort Collins as Gordon took just three first-half shots, making two and pulling down two rebounds in the first half.

The Lobos shot just 37 percent in the first half and 36 percent in the second.

"We just couldn't make any shots," Alford said. "We never had one of those runs that we normally have. We had a couple stretches where we had wide-open looks. We just couldn't make a shot."

Greenwood said he expects the Lobos to shake this one off quickly, however.

"Whenever we've lost, we've bounced back pretty well," he said, "so we'll just keep that in the back of our minds."