Stevens: Kirk-Less UNM Lobos Nip CSU Rams 68-66
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  01/25/2014

New Mexico Lobos Basketball – On The Mountain West Road

Saturday: New Mexico 68, Colorado State 66

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.

The New Mexico Lobos’ dinner date with Danny Granger Saturday night in Denver does not need to include dessert.  The Lobos’ got their sweet treat Saturday afternoon in Fort Collins with a gut-check, Alex Kirk-less, 68-66 Mountain West thriller over Colorado State.

No Alex Kirk?  Big deal!  OK, that is a big deal – 84 inches of a big deal – but New Mexico took the obvious steps by throwing the scoring chore on the backs of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams to escape CSU’s Moby Arena with the critical MW road win.

The Lobos held that two-point lead in the closing seconds and the Rams had a decent chance to send the game into overtime, but Daniel Bejarano’s driving layup at the buzzer nicked the side of the backboard and never came close.

“Big win,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal, who says the Lobos plan to drive into Denver and join ex-Lobo and Indianapolis star Danny Granger for a late-night meal. “I’m really proud of my guys.”

The Lobos played without the 7-foot Kirk, who was out with a foot injury and had to watch from the bench in street clothes as Williams scored 23 points and Bairstow added 19 points. The win bumped the Lobos to 6-1 in the MW race. The Lobos got an important eight points from Hugh Greenwood and eight more from Cullen Neal.  Greenwood also had five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers.

Neal said a key to the game was figuring out his substitution pattern without Kirk in the lineup.  “Without Alex, it kind of threw a monkey wrench into it,” said Neal. “I basically did it on feel with a lot of help (from my staff).”

Coach Neal had no choice but to lean on a four-guard or smaller lineup without Kirk.  “I think the four-guard lineup really opened the floor,” said Neal. “I thought that spacing really helped us.”

For sure, it helped Williams, who took over the game in the final six minutes, but also got two huge 3-pointers from Greenwood, who bombed one at 4:38 to put UNM up 60-56 and hit another with 51 seconds to go to push UNM up   66-64.  It was a lead UNM never let go.

Greenwood came up big on those shots, but he also found space because the Rams were trying to keep up with Williams while not leaving Bairstow open inside.  The Rams did not play well down the stretch.  The Lobos did.

The last time Williams came up to Fort Collins, he burned CSU for 46 points.  The UNM senior didn’t reach those numbers, but the Rams had few answers for Williams down the stretch.

“I think he was trying to get the 46 in the first half,” Neal said of Williams. “He was pressing early.  But I’ll take that kid over anybody in the country.  He makes big shots.  His stats are unbelievable and he isn’t getting any attention.  He is just out there to win.”

That’s what Williams and the Lobos did in Fort Collins: win.  The Lobos shot 46.9 percent for the game which was important with Kirk on the bench.  The Lobos went 0-of-9 from 3-point range in the first half, but went 7-of-11 in the second 20 minutes.  UNM went 15-of-18 from the free-throw line, brought down 35 boards and had 11 turnovers.

The Rams had a chance to control the game down the stretch with Bairstow going to the bench at the 6:10 mark with four fouls, but CSU could not control – or trap – the elusive Williams.  The Rams let a good opportunity slip away. The Rams shot 32.1 percent from the floor, had 36 boards and only seven turnovers.  The Rams did not shoot well over the UNM defense.

CSU got 21 points from Bejarano, but only eight points from Avila, who went 1-of-12 from the floor. The Rams had ten offensive boards in the first half, but only two in the second half.

Second Half:  New Mexico 44, Colorado State 39

The Rams came out of the half up 27-24.  UNM hit a critical spot at the 16:02 mark.  CSU had taken a 35-28 lead and UNM was down seven with Kirk on the bench, Williams not (yet) shooting well, and Bairstow with three fouls.

Williams responded with UNM’s first trey of the game to cut the Rams’ lead to 35-31.  Bairstow hit an 18-footer off a CSU turnover and Neal hit two free throws to tie the game at 35-35.  CSU drifted up 38-35 and 40-37 but Williams dropped a 3-ball from the top of the key to make it 40-all. At the 11:24 media break, CSU was up a point at 43-42. At the 7:59 break, CSU was up 50-46 with UNM’s Williams knocking down his third trey.

UNM came out of the break and got four points from Bairstow to tie the game 50-all.   Bairstow again tied the game at 52-all on a post move, but at 6:10 the big Lobo had to go to the bench with four fouls.

Williams stayed hot, hit two free throws and a trey and Greenwood added a trey to put UNM up 60-56.  UNM had possession up four points when Williams was called for a ticky-tack foul while UNM was bringing the ball in.  CSU scored to make it 60-58, Banyard missed a jumper and fouled Bejarano  at the other end with 3:36 to play.  Bairstow came back on the court and Bejarano hit both free shots: 60-60.

Greenwood came up short on a trey and Avila went to the line at 2:56 to push CSU up 62-60. Bairstow missed inside and Banyard fouled Santo on the rebound.  The 6-9 Ram made one: 63-60.  Williams hit another bomb: 63-60.  The Rams kept attacking.  Bejarano hit one free throw: 64-63.

Bairstow missed a short jumper inside, but CSU turned it over at the other end when Octeus pushed off on Greenwood prior to taking a jumper at the 1:13 mark. Greenwood made the Rams pay at the other end with a trey that pushed UNM up 66-64 with 50 ticks to go.

Santo missed inside as Bairstow intimidated the shot.  UNM had the ball and CSU allowed the Lobos to run the clock down to 10 seconds before fouling Williams.  The Lobo senior had a chance to make it a four-point bulge. He only made one: 67-64.

The Rams had a chance to tie. Greenwood fouled on purpose with 6.6 seconds and Octeus used the line to make it 67-66. The Rams needed a quick foul and got it at 6.1 sending Williams to the line.  He made one again (68-66), eliminating UNM’s chance to foul on the in-bounds.

Bejarano got a nice look at the basket on a nice drive, but his floating layup nicked the side of the backboard and UNM got the win.

First Half:  Colorado State 27, New Mexico 24

With Kirk on the bench, the Lobos needed to play a clean first half, pick up some extra scoring here and there, and shoot well.  UNM shot well early and closed to a 38.5 percentage – not bad considering the Lobos went 0-of-9 from 3-point range.  The Rams won the glass war 23-to-19  with CSU hauling down 10 offensive boards to three for the Lobos.  Both teams did well taking care of the ball with UNM having six turnovers and CSU with only four.

CSU got 11 points off turnovers to none for UNM.  The Rams had to be happy with the halftime score considering they shot 28.1 percent from the floor in the first half.  CSU was 4-of-13 from long range. Bairstow led UNM in the half with eight points and Cullen Neal added six points.  De Ciman had 11 points for CSU.

Colorado State went up   8-4, the Lobos knotted it at 8-all and then the teams see-sawed through most of the first half.  At 6:10, Greenwood hit a jumper to cut the Rams’ lead to 19-18 going into a break at 6:07.  The Rams, with Kirk in street clothes, were hitting the offensive boards hard and getting a few extra shots that normally might end up in Kirk’s strong hands.

Cleveland Thomas hit a jumper to tie the game at 20-all and Aget hit two at the line to form a 22-22 tie before CSU outscored UNM 5-2 down the stretch to grab a slim 27-24 halftime lead.