The Pit had swallowed up ranked teams before.
No. 1 Arizona fell there in January 1988, followed seven days later by No. 5 Wyoming. Seven times in the last 10 seasons nationally ranked teams had left Albuquerque with a loss.Bill Frieder knew it.
"I told our guys this would be the toughest game of the season to date and it was," Frieder said after New Mexico (2-2) stunned the No. 12 Sun Devils, 87-71, late Saturday night.
ASU came in with a 4-0 record and a Maui Invitational title that included wins over nationally ranked Michigan and Maryland. New Mexico, a team loaded with underclassmen, had stumbled to a 1-2 start at home.
"I told our players that UNM was a good team, no matter what its record was," Frieder said.
New Mexico, which trailed 20-7 six minutes into the game, used a 17-0 run in the second half to take a 73-62 lead with 6:30 left. The Lobos rally started after coach Dave Bliss was hit with a technical for disputing a loose ball call by official Bobby Hunt with the Sun Devils up 61-56.
New Mexico center Shawn Simpson and ASU's Mario Bennett scrambled after a loose ball that went out of bounds off Bennett's leg. Hunt awarded possession to Arizona State. That sent Bliss charging after him.
Sun Devils guard Isaac Burton hit one of the two foul shots off the technical with 11:12 remaining, but Arizona State would not score again until Bennett hit a hook shot with 5:56 remaining.
By then the Lobos had taken control behind seven points from Brian Hayden, 3-pointers from freshman Clayton Shields and sophomore Greg Schornstein, and baskets by freshman point guard David Gibson and Royce Olney, another freshman.
"It was definitely the turning point in the game," Frieder said of the technical. "Everything changed after that."
The Sun Devils, who had shot better than 58 percent in the first half, scored just five points over a 91/2-minute stretch after the technical.
"It's a tough place to play," Bennett said. "You've got 19,000 fans (actually 17,217) on your back."
"We're not a great team, but we showed some gumption," Bliss said. "When we were behind (20-7), it looked like the wagons were beginning to circle on us."
Charles Smith led New Mexico with 21 points, 17 in the first half. Hayden scored 16, with 15 of them in the second half. Shields finished with 14 and Gibson 12.
Burton led the Sun Devils with 18 points and Bennett had 17.