New Mexico Lobos at the NCAA South Region in St. Louis
Friday: No. 10 Stanford 58, No. 7 New Mexico 53 -- Second Round
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
The big NCAA picture, the sad picture, is that the New Mexico Lobos are no longer in it. The Lobos for the second straight year were knocked out of the NCAA bracket in their opening game, this time 58-53 by the Stanford Cardinal of the Pac-12.
However, there was a glowing snapshot within that NCAA frame as Lobo Cameron Bairstow might have put the final stamp on an All-American season. The 6-foot-9 senior went 10-of-18 from the floor and led all scorers with 24 points.
"I thought Cameron was outstanding," said Lobo Coach Craig Neal of his Mountain West Tournament MVP.
Bairstow was a beast as usual. He also was smooth, clutch and unrelenting in the damage he did to the heart of the Cardinal defense eventually forcing that “D” to double down on the big Lobo and attempt to limit his touches. The Cardinal decided to let some other Lobo beat them. The strategy worked.
The Lobos didn’t come up with enough offensive options down the stretch missing 15 of their final 17 shots. The Lobos had scratched out of a 16-point first-half deficit and finally worked into a 45-45 tie in the second half on a Cullen Neal layup, but could never capture the lead.
"We just had a hard time scoring the basketball, which we haven't done most of the year," said Coach Neal. "We weren't able to make enough baskets and get enough stops. I have to give Stanford a lot of credit. They played very well."
It was an afternoon where the Lobos really needed Bairstow to step up as Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk did not shoot well in St. Louis. Williams went 1-of-9 from the field and finished his Lobo career with three points.
"They didn't put any pressure on us," said Williams. "They just executed a good game plan and we
didn't make enough shots. Like we said going into the game, it's a win-or-go-home tournament and we didn't win, so ..."
Kirk, who got into foul trouble in both halves, didn’t have many offensive touches going 0-of-2 from the floor and 3-of-4 from the line to finish with three points.
"It's just one of those things where he couldn't get it going, couldn't get in a rhythm," Neal said of his 7-footer. "And I think the foul trouble hurt him."
The Lobos shot 36.5 percent from the floor and Stanford was a bit better at 38.8 percent. Both teams made 19 field goals, but Stanford went 8-of-15 from 3-point range and UNM went 4-of-21. The Cardinal were paced by Chasson Randle with 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting.
UNM won the board battle 37-35. Stanford advances to play the winner of Kansas/Eastern Kentucky. New Mexico, the 2014 Mountain West Tournament champs, ended the season 27-6.
"They managed to put the ball in the hoop down the stretch when we couldn't," said Bairstow.
Second Half: New Mexico 26, Stanford 26
The five-point halftime lead eventually proved to be enough for Stanford. The Lobos came out of the halftime break down 32-27 and at the 14:52 mark the score was 39-35, but Stanford’s 6-foot-11 Stefan Nastic was now on the bench with four fouls. Kirk joined him at the 9:35 mark – both Kirk’s and Nastic’s fourth fouls were ticky-tack calls after incidental contact.
The Lobos scratched to 45-all on a driving layup by Cullen Neal and UNM had a chance to take the lead but Neal missed the added free shot. UNM had another chance to go ahead, but a UNM turnover led to a Randle trey and a 48-45 lead that Stanford never surrendered.
The 6-11 Nastic scored over 6-9 Bairstow – 50-45 – and Kirk came back in at the 5:15 mark. At the 3:54 media break, the Cardinal had bumped their lead to 52-45. The Lobos were having trouble scoring. Williams had two points and Kirk had one. It was time for the Lobo leaders to step up – or end a season.
The Cardinal had the ball at the 2:21 mark up 54-47. Bairstow had scored a jumper for UNM. Greenwood picked up his fourth on Nastic with 2:10 to play. Nastic went to the line and missed the one-and-one. UNM didn’t score on the other end losing the ball on a Bairstow walk. The Cardinal didn’t score and Greenwood made it exciting with a tough trey at 1:05 – 54-50.
The Cardinal tried to work the clock, but Randle threw the ball away at 50.1. It was a huge turnover. The Cardinal had a chance to maybe seal the win, but instead handed the ball back to the Lobos. UNM’s Kirk was fouled going up for a dunk at 30.6. He made both free shots: 54-52. The Lobos needed to foul and hope for a Cardinal miss at the line.
The Lobos fouled Cardinal walk-on Robbie Lemons at the other end and he rattled in two free shots at 23.8 and Stanford was up 56-52. "He hit two big free throws," said Coach Neal. "And he was one of the guys we wanted to foul because he hasn't played a lot."
The Lobos missed on their end and the game looked to be over with Stanford in control of the ball. However, Greenwood quickly fouled, but caught an elbow to his face on the foul. Stanford got two free throws, but UNM also got two on the flagrant foul – plus possession.
The key to a miracle ending was Stanford missing at the line. Randle made them both and that 58-52 lead with 7.3 seconds to play was carried to the 58-53 final.
"Unfortunately, we just couldn't knock down shots down the stretch for whatever reason.," said Bairstow. "And I think we did take a number of good -- we had a number of good looks, unfortunately they didn't go down."
First Half: Stanford 32, New Mexico 27
It was a good half for New Mexico only because of the finish. UNM fell behind 20-4, but then outscored Stanford 23-12 the rest of the way. Stanford came out hot (6-of-6), but cooled down shooting 39.2 percent for the half. UNM shot 42.8 percent. Bairstow had 12 first-half points.
"We just got off to a bad start," said Coach Neal. "We couldn't make any shots. And they got some easy ones."
The first half also promised better things to come in the second half as Kirk had no points and Williams scored only a single field goal and two points. Randle had 11 points for Stanford. The Cardinal came out playing quick and aggressive, but then were slowed down by a Lobo zone that took the Cardinal out of their rhythm.
It was not a good start for New Mexico. The Cardinal roared to a 16-4 lead behind perfect 6-of-6 shooting. The Cardinal went on a 17-0 run aided by seven empty possessions by the Lobos. Bairstow made his first two shots and then UNM missed nine straight. The Cardinal pushed their lead to 20-5 going into a Stanford time out at 12:59.
The Lobos finally got going. A 7-0 run came from Stanford misses, a Lobo zone and UNM knocking down some shots. A Greenwood trey made it 20-12. The Cardinal had missed seven straight shots. Stanford finally knocked down a trey followed by a Bairstow 10-footer and it was 23-14 at the 9:00 break.
Stanford bumped its lead back to 13 points, 32-19, but a Greenwood trey made it 32-22 at the 3:35 media stop. The Lobos cut their hole to 32-27 at the half.