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New Mexico Secures Victory In MW Men’s Basketball Championship

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History has been made, and legacies have been solidified as doubts about an NCAA tournament appearance are put to rest.

In a year of uncertainty, the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship title has been claimed by the No. 6 seed, New Mexico, in a hard-fought 68-61 victory over No. 5 San Diego State.

For Lobos coach Richard Pitino, in his third year with the program, this marks his first conference title—a monumental achievement, particularly in a season where the Mountain West competition is widely regarded as the toughest it has ever been.

Under the leadership of graduate student Jaelen House and junior Jamal Mashburn Jr., the Lobos surged to a 14-point lead in the first half, only to see it narrowed to six by halftime. Despite a resilient effort from the Aztecs, the game was deadlocked at 59 during the final media timeout with 3:52 remaining.

House, who recorded 28 points and a game-high three steals, played a pivotal role in securing the victory with a decisive 9-2 run. The Lobos, known for their offensive prowess throughout the season, attribute their success in the tournament to a significant improvement in their defensive performance.

In Friday’s semifinal against Colorado State, they capitalized on 14 turnovers, and against San Diego State, they added 10 more turnovers, resulting in 14 additional points.

The ability to overcome a formidable defense and emerge victorious has undoubtedly bolstered their confidence heading into the NCAA tournament. Mashburn’s breakout performance of 21 points and two steals was crucial, especially considering Donovan Dent’s limited playing time due to illness, underscoring the challenges the team had to overcome.

With their first title in a decade, the Lobos achieved a historic feat by becoming the first Mountain West team to compete on all four days of the tournament and emerge as champions.

For Pitino, winning a championship with his first recruiting class at New Mexico is a significant milestone, considering the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic during the recruiting process. Despite the obstacles, the legacy forged by Pitino and his players serves as a fitting reward for the leap of faith they took three years ago.

Yet, their journey is far from over as they now set their sights on the NCAA tournament, eager to continue their remarkable run.

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