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Jan 23, 2024 8:40 am

JT Toppin, No. 25 New Mexico bid to stay hot vs. San Jose State

JT Toppin is fully unlocked as a breakout freshman, guiding New Mexico into the national rankings for the first time this season.

Toppin and the No. 25 Lobos can grab a fourth consecutive victory when they visit San Jose State on Wednesday night in Mountain West play.

New Mexico (16-3, 4-2 Mountain West) moved into the rankings after Toppin scored 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting and collected 13 rebounds in Saturday’s 85-66 road win over Air Force.

Toppin has three double-doubles this month and six for the season. He is one shy of the school record for most double-doubles by a freshman, held by school legend Kenny Thomas (1995-96 season).

Toppin’s stock as perhaps the top freshman in the league came into focus after a 17-point, 16-rebound performance in a victory over then-No. 19 San Diego State on Jan. 13.

The contest against Air Force represents his second-best scoring output behind the 27 he recorded against Toledo on Nov. 21.

“He’s delivering. You never know with a freshman,” Pitino said of Toppin after the Air Force game. “I mean, we really liked him. We really did. … You never know if you can play a guy that many minutes, but he was great. He’s been obviously very, very impressive.

“To do it here and to do it vs. San Diego State — you know, everybody talks about him as one of the best freshmen in the league, he may be one of the best players in our league.”

Toppin is fourth on the Lobos in scoring at 13.4 points per game and is the leader in rebounding (8.2) and blocked shots (31). He entered the week ranked third nationally in field-goal percentage at 67.7 percent.

The Lobos were solid all-around against Air Force as they made 54.7 percent of their shots, had a 36-28 rebounding edge and forced 18 turnovers.

“It is hard to beat a team in our conference on the road by 19 points, especially this team because it is a low-possession game,” Pitino said.

San Jose State (8-10, 1-4) will be looking for the upset after dropping eight of its past 11 games.

The Spartans are coming off a tough 85-82 road loss at Fresno State when Isaiah Hill of the Bulldogs hit a winning 3-point shot at the buzzer.

“A heartbreaking finish, right?” San Jose State coach Tim Miles said. “Isaiah Hill made a great shot. We’ve been in a whole bunch of these this season and we’ve had some go our way but a whole bunch not go our way. It’s disappointing and frustrating but you can’t let that overwhelm you.

“Ultimately, we have to play better defense. You can’t give up 85 points and win on the road.”

San Jose State’s Tibet Gorener erupted for career bests of 32 points and seven 3-pointers against Fresno State. He had scored more than 17 points just once all season before the splurge.

Gorener was 7 of 9 from 3-point range and raised his career count to 154, just seven shy of school career leader Ryan Welage (2015-18). Gorener (13.9 points per game) ranks second on the Spartans in scoring behind Myron Amey Jr. (15.2).

Trey Anderson matched his career best by hitting all five 3s he attempted. Anderson equaled his season high of 21 points.

New Mexico has won 20 of the 25 meetings between the schools.

–Field Level Media

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