SAN DIEGO -- It was, as San Diego State coach Steve Fisher is fond of saying, a resume-building win.
Malcolm Thomas had 18 points and 15 rebounds to lead San Diego State to a 74-64 upset of New Mexico (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP) on Tuesday night in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.
The Aztecs (12-3) have won four straight games and nine of 10, and they won this one despite playing the last 26 minutes without leading scorer Billy White, who sprained his right ankle.
"We talked about beating a Pac-10 team, but we beat a team in our own league that's highly regarded," Fisher said. "I told our team if the NCAA tournament started yesterday, New Mexico would be in as a four or five seed, BYU would be in and Vegas would be in, and we'd be the little stepchild knocking on the door and nodding. But I said, 'There's 16 games to go.' So we did well. This is a nice win for us that people will now say, 'Hey, San Diego State beat New Mexico.'"
It will be even more significant, Fisher said, if the Aztecs can win at Wyoming on Saturday. If they founder as they did at Wyoming last season, it won't be as big.
It was the second loss in four games for the Lobos (14-2), the defending conference champions.
"You have to give San Diego State a lot of credit," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "I thought they did a good job defensively. Their size bothered us. Malcolm Thomas was really good in the second half. I thought he dominated our big men."
Thomas said White "is our energy guy on the court. When he went out, we didn't really hang our heads, but we tried to figure out where that energy was going to come from. The crowd stepped in and pushed us through it."
Thomas put on a show in the final minutes, scoring seven straight points for the Aztecs. He had a shot blocked but grabbed the ball and had a slam dunk for a 60-51 lead with 6:22 left. He made one of two free throws, a reverse baseline layup, then, after the Aztecs stole the ball, a fastbreak layup for a 65-55 lead, the biggest of the game.
"I focused on the defensive end. The offense will come," he said. "My teammate Billy White went out, so I was trying to account for him."
Fisher said the 6-foot-9, 215-pound Thomas was determined.
"He got a few licks and he got a few licks in," Fisher said. "It was not for the soft players down in the paint where he was most of the night."
Although the Aztecs are only 14-76 against ranked teams, they are 4-3 in their last seven games against Top 25 opponents.
D.J. Gay added 12 points for SDSU.
"This team came out ready to play," New Mexico's Phillip McDonald said of the Aztecs. "They out-toughed us. Next game, we have to show our toughness."
New Mexico's leading scorer, Darington Hobson, was only 4 of 17 from the field and finished with 12 points. He came in averaging 16.8.
"We made it hard for him to get layups, we made it hard for him to get unguarded shots," Fisher said. "I thought that our guys played with a measure of resolve that they got tired of hearing me say how good he was. I'll say it again, he's very, very good. Best pro prospect in our league. He didn't look it tonight, and I think that was a credit to the guys who defended him."
The game was tied 46-46 with 13:23 to go before the Aztecs began pulling away. Kelvin Davis made a bank shot, Tim Shelton made two of three free throws, Davis hit a 3-pointer and Thomas dunked to give the Aztecs a 55-47 lead with 10:13 left.
White was injured with 5:45 left in the first half and the Aztecs trailing 27-26. He didn't return, finishing with eight points. He later came out to the bench in street clothes and on crutches.
His replacement, Shelton, hit a 3-pointer just less than a minute later to give the Aztecs a 29-27 lead.
New Mexico went cold from the field after Chad Adams made a jumper with 6:50 to go, and got only six free throws until Martinez hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull the Lobos within 38-36.
Mississippi State freshman guard Malik Newman will withdraw from the NBA draft, but sources told ESPN he might explore other opportunities besides returning to Mississippi State.
Seton Hall sophomore Isaiah Whitehead will stay in the NBA draft and not return for his junior season.
Washington State's trio of Josh Hawkinson, Conor Clifford and Ike Iroegbu have withdrawn from the NBA draft and will play their senior season with the Cougars.