New Mexico Lobos Basketball -- On The Mountain West Road
Wednesday: New Mexico 72, Wyoming 69 (OT)
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The "Way" in Laramie wasn't exactly smooth or easy and even took an extra five minutes to find. But the Craig Neal Lobos did find a way,'
The Lobos beat the Wyoming Cowboys 72-69 Wednesday night in Laramie -- in overtime.
"They (Cowboys) keep it close with everybody," said Neal. "They win a lot of games in here. This is a good win for our program."
It also was a good win for a UNM team (11-3, 2-0 MW) in the chase for the 2014 Mountain West title. The Lobos got the win with some timely treys, some timely free throws by Cleveland Thomas -- and a few huge defensive plays.
Maybe the biggest defensive play of the game came with less than 16 seconds to play when Wyoming's Riley Grabau was flashing unattended to the UNM rim looking at a layup that would have pushed Wyoming into a 71-70 lead.
Instead, Grabau found a 7-foot-wall.
New Mexico's Alex Kirk came over from the weak side and extended his 7-foot frame to it's ultimate inch and slapped away Grabau's go-ahead shot.
"Alex does all the things to win games," said Neal. "He has been unbelievable for us."
UNM's Cleveland Thomas, who earlier had banged in a huge trey, pounced on the loose ball and was fouled. He knocked down both free throws to push UNM up 72-69 and then UNM had to survive another Grabau 3-point attempt -- that was short. The Cowboy ended the game 4-of-8 from long range.
The Lobos gobbled up the rebound and gobbled up its second MW win -- an important road win against a Wyoming team that will be difficult to beat in Laramie.
"We knew it was going to be tight," said Coach Neal. "We won last year on a last-second shot. Our guys were tough. Alex probably makes the biggest play of the year defensively."
The Lobos had four players in double figures in Cameron Bairstow (15), Kirk (12), Thomas (12) and Kendall Williams (10). Grabau had 24 for Wyoming and Nathan Sobey had 16. The Lobos shot 43.5 percent from the field and Wyoming shot 49 percent.
"I thought Wyoming guarded us as good as anybody this year," said Neal.
UNM got up 62 shots to 49 to the Cowboys. UNM had 37 rebounds to 31 for Wyoming. UNM had 14 offensive rebounds to only five for the Cowboys, who rarely send players to the offensive boards. That cautious approach eventually hurt the Cowboys on the scoreboard. The Lobos had only eight turnovers.
"We are going to win a lot of games, if we can do that," Neal said of UNM's eight turnovers. "That says a lot about our guys."'
The Lobos eventually pushed their score into the 70s, but Wyoming did a good job in controlling the tempo and limited UNM's fast-break opportunities. The final stats gave the Lobos no fast-break points out of transition.
"I kind of knew we weren't going to get any transition points," Neal said of Wyoming's strategy to quickly fall back on defense and force UNM into a half-court game. "They (Wyoming) did a nice job (driving) and they got to the line."
Wyoming went 15-of-21 from the line, but missed two key one-and-one chances in overtime.
"It's always good to win," said Neal, whose Lobos move on to play at San Jose State on Saturday.
The Lobos gave up a 6-0 run at the close of the first half, but still were up 33-31 at the end of the first half. The Lobos used points by Kirk, Williams and Greenwood to slip into a 47-39 lead. The Cowboys then rallied out of a 51-44 hole into a 54-53 lead.
It was pretty much a dog fight from that point in.
Bairstow hit a 15-footer to push UNM up 55-54. Larry Nance Jr. missed a trey and then turned over the ball allowing New Mexico to use a jumper by Kirk to go up 57-54. Wyoming got a reverse layup from Adams to scratch back to 57-56. UNM's Deshawn Delaney answered big on the baseline with a trey that bumped UNM up 60-56. Kirk got called for goal tending and it was 60-58 as the teams turned into the home stretch.
UNM's Bairstow missed the front of a one-and-one at 2:15 and Cook got fouled on the rebound. He also missed the front end of a one-and-one and UNM had the ball and a timeout at the 2:03 mark. UNM came out of their huddle and worked into a 3-point shot by Greenwood. He hit it: 63-58. UNM's Greenwood fouled Grabau on a drive and the Cowboy hit both ends of the one-and-one: 63-60 at the 1:29 mark.
Wyoming called time with UNM bringing in the ball. Wyoming got possession back when Bairstow got his shot blocked on a drive. Wyoming called time with 42.8 to play and in possession. Wyoming got a layup to pull to 63-62 and then were forced to foul Williams with 22.3 seconds to play. Williams made one and then missed, but Wyoming was called for a lane violation. Williams missed again. Wyoming called time with 18.1 ticks to play and down 64-62.
Grabau, who ended the game 10-for-10 from the line, was fouled on a drive with 7.6 to play by Greenwood. He hit both: 64-64. UNM called time with 7.6 to go. UNM got the ball to Williams, but rather than attacking the rim, the senior ended up launching a long bomb. He missed and the two Mountain West teams marched into overtime.
"When you have seven seconds left, you have to get it to the basket," said Neal.
UNM's Thomas opened the scoring in overtime with a big trey on the baseline and UNM was up 67-64. Wyoming hurt themselves with a turnover and four missed free throws and at 1:30 mark fouled Cullen Neal and put him at the line.
Neal hit his first shot and then was called for a technical foul for making a gesture at the Wyoming crowd. Wyoming went to the line at the other end and Grabau got two free throws to pull Wyoming to 68-66. Neal got his second shot at the other end and missed at 1:28.
The Lobos could have been up by five, but instead had a two-point lead with Wyoming bringing down the ball. "A player made a bad decision," Coach Neal said of the technical.
Wyoming brought the ball down, but Williams' quick hands forced a turnover. Thomas got fouled in the scramble for the ball and hit two: 70-66. "I felt confident," said Thomas. "We know we didn't play our best basketball, but we are happy with the win."
Grabau hit a trey to make it 70-69. Bairstow got fouled on the floor with 30.5 seconds and missed the first. Wyoming called a timeout. Bairstow missed the second shot and that led to Kirk's heroics at the other end.
Grabau drove. Kirk swatted it. :="I just met him at the rim," said Kirk.
Thomas hit his final two free throws with 14.2 ticks to go and UNM was up 72-69. "I just wanted to make sure I made them," Thomas said of his free throws.
Grabau then missed his final trey and that ended it.