For the second time in three years, the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team ended its season ranked in the top-25.
The Lobos finished ranked No. 22 in the final ESPN/USA Today national poll that came out on Tuesday. UNM completed its season with a 28-7 record and Head Coach Steve Alford said his team was deserving of the ranking.
“This was obviously a special year with a special team,” Alford said. “What an honor for me to coach this group of young men. To finish the year recognized as a top-25 team is a tremendous accomplishment.”
The Lobos grabbed a share of the Mountain West Conference (MWC) regular season title with San Diego State and won the MWC tournament defeating the Aztecs in the final. The strong finish earned the team a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and knocked off 12th-seeded Long Beach State 75-68 in the second round.
UNM had never made a Sweet 16 and its attempt to make history failed after it lost to fourth-seeded Louisville 59-56 in the third round. Louisville went all the way to the Final Four and ended the year No. 4 in the country.
Alford said he plans on building on the success of this year, but it’s going to be tough losing three seniors.
Seniors Drew Gordon, AJ Hardeman and Phillip McDonald all played their final games in a Lobos jersey in the loss in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m very proud of these young men,” Alford said. “They have had brilliant careers.”
Hardeman and McDonald both leave UNM with 102 wins, the most by any player in school history.
Gordon led the Lobos averaging a double-double with 13.7 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. He finished 10th in the country with 19 double-doubles on the season and fourth in the nation for rebounds a game.
Freshman guard Hugh Greenwood said it was a great feeling winning both conference titles for the seniors.
“To do it for the seniors, they have been great ambassadors for this program and to see them win and celebrate the right way that was the biggest thing,” Greenwood said.
Hardeman started all 35 games this season and Gordon started all but one, both at the forward position. McDonald was used primarily as a player off the bench and saw action in 33 games.
Alford already has the players in place to make up for the loss, especially for both Gordon and Hardeman who combined for nearly half of all of UNM’s rebounds. Sophomore center Alex Kirk missed the season due to a herniated disk in his back and is expected to fill the void in the post with junior forward Cameron Bairstow next year.
“We lost two big guys, so we are going to have to make sure we get a lot of rebounds,” Kirk said. “That’s going to be our job next season.”
Alford also signed 7-foot center Obij Aget, and forwards Nick Banyard and Devon Williams to letters of intent, and they should join UNM next fall.
What the Lobos lost in the post position, they have a wealth of talent at the guard spot. The Lobos will return Greenwood and sophomores Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Demetrius Walker.
Greenwood, Snell and Williams combined for 93 starts this season and accounted for nearly half of the 72.7 points per game UNM averaged this year.
“It’s going to be a rebuilding year and tough to make up for the loss of Drew Gordon,” Kirk said. “Were going to go out and play hard and not use that as an excuse next year.”