ALBUQUERQUE N.M. It took a gun-slinging act by a true freshman and visit to the home of a struggling opponent for BYU to snatch its first league road game of the season, a convincing 70-49 win over New Mexico Wednesday night in The Pit.
BYU head coach Dave Rose will take it.
"Our team came out focused and determined," he said.
His Cougars whooped it up in celebration in the locker room when Rose walked in the door after he trailed them up the ramp off The Pit floor following a brief TV stand-up interview.
Jonathan Tavernari dumped in a career-tying 18 points to lead the Cougars. The win lifted BYU to a 14-6 overall mark and 4-2 record in the league. The Lobos fell to 12-9 and 1-5. It was the worst New Mexico loss at home since a 68-42 set back to Air Force in 2004 and it might have helped that the crowd in The Pit sounded like they were at a funeral parlor.
"I've never seen it that quiet before," said BYU captain Austin Ainge.
The win was BYU's 16th in the 40-year history of The Pit, more wins by any other visitor. Of course, UNM has lost six of its last seven.
The Cougars now host league-leading Air Force Saturday in a key home game that could go a long ways in determining BYU's seeding in the league tournament in March.
The Lobos struggled without a healthy J.R. Giddens, the league's third-leading scorer, who didn't start. He failed to score in five attempts from the field and left the game in the second half with an injury.
"I thought BYU played great and I thought we played poorly," said UNM coach Richie McKay. "We're just trying to get through this adverse time."
"I didn't know what to expect in The Pit," said Tavernari, who made 6 of his first 7 field goals. "All I heard before the game was The Pit was this and The Pit was that. I just tried to take my shots when they came my way."
The Brazilian sharp-shooter filled in a gap left by BYU's leading scorers Trent Plaisted and Keena Young early in the game. They ended with a combined 18 points with the majority of them coming when the Cougars led big.
"They are our main guys," Tavernari said.
BYU ripped apart New Mexico's zone defense with long artillery bombs but it may have been the Cougar defense that proved crucial.
"We had back-to-back stops multiple times in the game and that was key as we got out on their 3-point shooters," Rose said.
Tavernari wasn't the only scoring punch off the bench. Mike Rose and Sam Burgess combined for a trio of 3-point shots as the Cougars hit 9 of 18 from beyond the arc.
"I can't remember the last time BYU blew out an opponent on the road," Ainge said. "It feels good to get the monkey off our backs about these road games so we don't have to hear about it all the time. I thought Mike Rose hit some daggers out there and obviously Jonathan's scoring and Sam's baskets helped."
The Cougars ripped off a 19-5 run in the middle portion of the second half to take control of the game with a 21-point lead. It was a stage of the game the Cougars had experienced slippage the in road losses at UNLV and Colorado State.
"We've played well enough to win on the road, but just haven't put it together like this," said Ainge.
The Cougars found the missing road key for a win when they finished the first half on a 11-0 run to lead 37-28. It included a stop with 11 seconds left and the Lobos trying to score on an inbounds play.
From the 3:38 mark of the first half BYU held the Lobos scoreless, with four missed field goals, a pair of steals and a block by Tavernari on Tony Dandridge.
In the final three minutes, Tavernari knocked down a pair of 3-point shots and Burgess, seeing six minutes in the first half, added another. Tavernari went 4-for-4 from the field in the first half as BYU led by 10 at the break.
The game started out strange with Plaisted and Young all but disappearing in the game. Plaisted picked up two early fouls and Young hurt his hip when Danridge came through him to try and get a failed alley-oop pass. Young ended up falling under the basket and left the game with only four minutes gone in the game.
Rose said Young's absence came as a result of Tavernari's presence, especially on defense. "He matched up well at that position on defense and obviously his scoring gave us a boost," Rose said.
Young returned to the game later in the first half but scored only one field goal in the first 20 minutes. He and Plaisted combined for only nine points and took a combined three shot attempts in the first 14 minutes of the game."We've got Air Force at home Saturday and that's better than having them at their place," said Tavernari.