ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- No. 18 New Mexico got to the foul line and pressured Valparaiso into a bunch of turnovers. It was just enough to keep the Lobos perfect on the season.
Alex Kirk scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half and New Mexico overcame a sluggish start to beat Valparaiso 65-52 on Saturday night.
The Lobos forced a season-high 23 turnovers, and turned them into 22 points. They also enjoyed a big advantage at the foul line, making 20 of 31 compared to 8 for 13 for the Crusaders.
"A lot of times when teams zone you, you don't take advantage of the free throw line," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "To get to the free throw line 31 times against a team that zones you an awful lot speaks volumes of how aggressive we were."
"It's hard to win games with 23 turnovers, especially against a team as a good as New Mexico," Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. "I think their length probably gave us some problems. There were some passes that we probably were able to complete against other teams that we weren't able to complete against their length."
Valparaiso tried to counteract the Lobos' athleticism with some deliberate play, Drew said.
"We didn't feel like this was a game that could be up in the 80s and for us to have a chance to win," he said. "We felt like we had to keep the score down low against them. They're one of the most explosive teams in the country. A lot of teams go on 4-0 runs and they go on 14-0 runs."
After a lackluster first half during which both teams struggled to score, New Mexico grabbed control right out of the locker room.
Van Wijk scored the first basket of the second half to get Valparaiso within two, but the Lobos responded with a 12-3 run. Tony Snell had a layup and a 3-pointer during the key stretch that gave New Mexico a 41-30 lead.
"I knew this was going to be a grind tonight," Alford said. "I thought our guys did a tremendous job in each 20 minutes of just guarding. We held them to 25 in one half and 27 in the other half. We made things hard. We knew they would probably slow things down a little bit, which is fine. We've been able to play versatile styles."
One of Kirk's biggest plays didn't show up in the box score. After Kendall Williams was intentionally fouled midway through the second half, Kirk grabbed him to keep Williams from retaliating.
Williams, one of the team's leaders, had six assists and three of New Mexico's nine steals.
The Crusaders forced 10 turnovers, but only created three points off the miscues.
Nike Men's Valparaiso Crusaders Gold Basketball Practice T-ShirtShop
Who are the best NBA prospects in the 2017 draft class? Chad Ford gives his top five and previews the big storylines to watch for next year.
Maria Taylor and Peter Burns share the greatest moments of the year around the conference.
We highlight six teams that had a particularly good evening or an especially disappointing result in the 2016 NBA draft. Chad Ford gives his early ratings.