New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – In The Pit
Wednesday: New Mexico 66, Wyoming 61 (OT)
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
It was a perfect Wyoming February outside – cold and snowy white – but inside the Lobos’ Pit the Cowboys’ gallant bid for a Mountain West upset also turned cold as New Mexico escaped with a gut-wrenching 66-61 overtime win.
Lobo Coach Craig Neal said after the game that it didn't appear his players listened to him when he said: "This isn’t going to be a cakewalk. This is going to be one of the toughest games you play.”
And it was.
The Cowboys had the ball at the close of regulation and Larry Nance Jr. threw up a short, but contested, jumper over Alex Kirk that failed to fall ending the first 40 minutes in a 57-57 knot. New Mexico used the extra period to bump its MW mark to 9-1 to stay snug with 9-0 San Diego State.
“We didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing, but they made it difficult on us,” said Neal. “Our guys hung in there and we made big free throws. We didn’t shoot the ball very well outside and Kendall (Williams) was having an off night. But he’s a clutch kid and he had some big free throws."
The Lobos took control of the overtime period quickly with a Cameron Bairstow dunk and packaged several critical Wyoming turnovers with some timely Williams' free throws to produce the 66-61 win.
Nance Jr., tied the game at 59-59 at the free-throw line, but Wyoming could score only two more points the rest of the way. UNM used free throws to bump its overall mark to 18-4.
The Lobos got 23 points and 11 rebounds from Bairstow and the 7-foot Kirk added 15 points and 10 boards.
“Cam just worked his butt off and Alex was really good in the second half,” said Neal. To his (Kirk's) credit, he is getting back into the flow. He is very coachable and he listens.
"He was terrific in the second half. He made some finishes for us in the second half that were big for us in being able to come back.”
Kendall Williams scored 13 points going 9-of-12 from the line, but only 2-of-13 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range. He had no assists and four turnovers. Hugh Greenwood had eight points, four boards and three assists. UNM got only five points off its bench -- all five from Cullen Neal.
Wyoming had four players in double figures with Riley Grabau the high Cowboy hitting 12 points going 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
The Cowboys came into The Pit looking to control the tempo and had to be happy with the regulation score that settled into the 50s.
"They can control tempo and they can be very good defensively," said Neal. "They did a lot of nice things and they hit a lot of big shots."
Wyoming shot 44.4 percent from the field and went 7-of-19 from 3-point range. UNM went 1-of-10 from long range, but 19-of-26 from the line. The Cowboys went 6-of-9 from the line where UNM outscored them by 13 points.
The Lobos had a gigantic win on the boards, 43-22
It was a see-saw battle all the way. UNM got its biggest lead of the second half and the game at 46-43 on a Kirk tip and again 48-45 on a Williams' floater in traffic. A Wyoming bomb formed a 48-48 knot that was carried into the media break at 7:24. It was the seventh tie of the game.
The Lobos got their biggest lead in regulation at 55-51 when Greenwood found Delaney coming off the baseline for an alley-oop slam.
"I thought we had it in control when we were up four,” said Neal.
That control disappeared when the Cowboys used two 3-pointers to go up 57-55. The 'Pokes were closing in on their upset. UNM needed a hoop and Wyoming needed a stop
. The hoop came to UNM off a Bairstow drive with 34.8 left and it was 57-all with Wyoming calling a timeout with 27.2 to play. Nance missed a short jumper to end regulation at 57-all.
“They are resilient and they find a way to win,” said Neal of his Lobos. “We hung in there and we won. That’s the most important thing. We are trying to win every game we can. We needed this win.
"I’m really happy where we’re at. We are sitting pretty good. We started last year 8-2 and now we are 9-1."