ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It may not have been their usual stomping grounds, but don’t tell the Lobos that.
They may take a liking to Johnson Center.
Cherise Beynon scored a game-high 33 points and N’Dea Flye hit two momentum-changing three-pointers late to lead the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team to a hard-fought 82-80 win over Saint Mary’s in the first round of the WNIT.
Playing in Johnson Center on the main campus of UNM due to a schedule conflict in their usual venue of Dreamstyle Arena, the Lobos (24-10) found themselves at home as they held off a furious Gael (20-11) rally to advance to second-round action vs. Rice on Tuesday, March 20.
“We held our composure, even when there were plenty of opportunities not to,” UNM head coach Mike Bradbury said. “I thought they were great. They held themselves together and made it a place to win.”
Back in the WNIT for the sixth time overall and first time since 2010, the Lobos made sure they’d get to keep playing as they relied on their pressure defense and a boisterous crowd for the victory.
New Mexico forced 24 Saint Mary’s turnovers on the evening, which translated into 30 points off turnovers. That helped offset the team’s disadvantage on the boards to a taller SMC squad.
“They were just really good at things that we’re not,” Bradbury said. “In turn, we were also really good at things that they weren’t either. We had to beat them up in the turnover battle, because we knew that we would get beat up a little bit on the boards.”
UNM ended up with a 30-14 advantage on points off turnovers, mitigating the Gaels’ 19-8 advantage in second-chance points that was fueled by Saint Mary’s rebounding margin.
Beynon also contributed heavily to New Mexico’s efforts, logging her fourth 30-point game of the season. She finished shooting 5-of-10 from three-point range and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line and added eight rebounds, five assists and game-high four steals.
“We knew that Saint Mary’s was going to be a very physical team,” Beynon said. “That’s what they are known for, so it feels really good to finally get a tough win under our belts.”
Jaisa Nunn added 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds for the Lobos before fouling out with 4:08 left in the game.
“We played the last three or four minutes without Jaisa, and that’s hard for our team to do,” Bradbury said.
Tesha Buck also scored in double figures with 10 points, chipping six assists and three steals, while Flye finished with eight points and the two key three-pointers late in the contest.
The Lobos opened the game on a roll, forcing three quick Saint Mary’s turnovers en route to a 5-0 lead. UNM extended the margin to nine points at 17-8, and relied on 12 Beynon points for a 19-14 lead after one quarter.
The Gaels would cut the deficit to two points at 19-17 to open the second quarter, but the Lobos responded as they took a 30-22 lead on a fastbreak layup by Madi Washington and Beynon’s third three-point basket of the night.
Three-pointers by Laneah Bryan and Washington helped extend New Mexico’s lead to double-digits, including 12-point margins at 38-26 and 40-28. Over the final 2:20 of the first half, Saint Mary’s would get no closer than nine points.
Coming out of halftime, the Lobos continued to build their lead, moving ahead 45-30 on a Nunn layup with 8:23 in the third quarter. Three straight layups by the Gaels’ Stella Beck cut the lead down to eight, but Beynon chipped in 10 points in the quarter as UNM maintained at least an eight-point advantage for the quarter.
However, Saint Mary’s began to climb back in the fourth quarter, translating a 12-4 run over four minutes to take its first and only lead of the game at 69-68. But Beynon and Flye took over, with the duo connecting on back-to-back triples to put UNM up by five points at 74-69.
“The back-to-back three pointers that were made by Cherise and N’Dea probably won the game,” Bradbury said. “Obviously, they were important.”
The Gaels would score a layup to make it 74-71, but Flye tallied her second straight three to give UNM an insurmountable 77-71 lead.
“I’ve been on a dry spell,” Flye said. “I was 0-for-7 four games ago, and all that I was thinking about was my team believing in me. That gave me a lot of confidence in my shot.”
Saint Mary’s would get to within three during the waning seconds, but Buck would convert three free throws to seal the deal.
The vocal crowd, announced at 1,428 fans, was instrumental down the stretch. Packed in the old home of the UNM men’s basketball team, the crowd’s intensity at Johnson rivaled that of many crowds in The Pit, said Beynon.
New Mexico returns to action and Dreamstyle Arena at 7 p.m. on Tuesday as it advances to play Rice in the second round of the WNIT. Rice was a 71-60 winner over Texas State on Thursday.