Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – Never in any trouble. Never a doubt.

The No. 6 New Mexico Lobos are moving onto the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinals against Boise State with a 82-56 win over No. 11 Air Force. The 26-point margin of victory was one point shy of a top-five mark in tournament history.

One of the few blemishes on the Lobos’ stellar regular season was just a couple of weeks ago, when Air Force beat them at home – something that has only happened three times this year.

Something that also weighed on the mind of Lobos sophomore guard Donovan Dent heading into the tournament matchup.

“A couple of weeks ago they kind of hurt us a lot,” Dent said. “We didn’t come in prepared and we took them for granted. This game we came in ready, prepared to do what we’ve got to do.”

With that in mind, he scored eight points to go with nine assists.

And it went beyond just a mindset. Pick a stat on either end of the floor, and New Mexico probably led.

Perhaps most eye popping were the rebounding and turnover numbers. New Mexico outrebounded the Falcons 45-25, including 16 offensive boards. The Lobos also scored 20 points off of 14 turnovers.

“I think it just builds momentum for us going into a strong game against Boise State,” Dent said. “We know what we have to do: we have to be physical. We didn’t win against them in the regular season, so we know what we have to do to figure it out.”

Four Lobos eclipsed double digits, led by freshman sensation JT Toppin, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The only problems the Falcons could cause the Lobos were sophomore star Rytis Petraitis’s contributions on offense. He recorded a double-double, leading the team in both points (26) and rebounds (10).

He had 16 and six in the first half alone, prompting New Mexico coach Richard Pitino to change up his approach on defense slightly, despite being up 19 at the break. The big message was to make him uncomfortable while not committing as many shooting fouls as they did in the first half.

“I don’t know if we did anything well on him. He is really good, and he’s really good at finishing around the rim,” Pitino said. “We had, like, four or five and-1s that we’ve got to be better at, but he’s one of the better players in the league, and he just finds a way to not take bad shots to get to the rim. I thought we made him earn it, but a lot of it was him just being really good.”

Giving up that sort of efficiency against a big is largely what buried the Lobos in both losses to Boise State this season. Pitino knows it and his players know it. If you ask them, they’d say they got bullied in the other matchups.

Because of that, the preliminary game plan is simple:

“Just be more tough, be more physical, provide more resistance, do a better job on (O’Mar) Stanley and (Tyson) Degenhart. They were too comfortable last game,” Pitino said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to go do something special. Twenty-three wins is great, and we have to get some rest, lock in, see if we can get one tomorrow, because Boise is a terrific team.

“They’re tough, and we’ve got to be tougher.”