The No. 12 New Mexico Lobos appeared to be having trouble with the Nevada Wolf Pack Wednesday night midway through the second half. Trailing 55-53 after a Malik Story three-pointer, the Lobos responded with a 19-1 over the next seven minutes of the game to outdistance the Wolf Pack and finish with a decisive 75-62 victory before a Senior Night crowd of 6,401 at the Lawlor Event Center in Reno, Nev.
New Mexico moved to 26-4 and 13-2 in Mountain West play behind a 25 points from junior Tony Snell, high highest point total ever in a MWC game, and a pair of double-doubles from big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, who tallied 15 points and 10 rebounds and 11 points and 10 boards respectively to lead UNM to the road win.
"Our bigs are terrific," said UNM coach Steve Alford. "I thought they were as dominant in the paint tonight as they have been all season. They controlled the paint at both ends. And our guards controlled things. We are taking care of the ball. We are valuing the ball and taking good shots."
After just combining to score just eight points and pull in six rebounds in the first half, Kirk and Bairstow combined for 18 points and 14 boards after halftime. UNM finished with four players in double figures as Kendall Williams added 10 going 3 of 6 from the floor and 4 of six from the free throw line.
The real catalyst for the Lobos’ second half run, however, was defense. New Mexico held Nevada (12-17, 3-12) to 2 of 7 shooting from the floor in the last five minutes Wednesday night.
"The last ten minutes it was like the guys said, `OK, enough is enough,'" said Alford. "I thought we did a good job of wearing an opponent down."
The Wolf Pack was a game opponent for the first 30 minutes of the game, mostly riding the hot hand of guard Malik Story, who finished with 25 points on 7 of 15 shooting, including a 6 of 11 performance from behind the 3-point arc.
New Mexico opened on a 10-5 run but Nevada equalized at 10-10 on a pair of free throws by Story at the 14:02 mark. The two teams proceeded to trade runs the rest of the half before UNM closed the half on a 4-0 run fueled by a Snell jumper and a pair of free throws to give the Lobos a 36-32 advantage at halftime.
The Lobos open the second half on a 7-3 run, taking a 44-37 lead on an Alex Kirk jumper with 17:03 left in the game. But the Wolf Pack would not go away, getting a 10-3 run to tie the game 47-47 on a Devonte Elliot lay up with 12:44 left in the game. The two teams ended up tied again 55-55 after a lay up by Bairstow with 9:50 left. Story hit one of two free throws 60 seconds later to give Nevada it’s final lead.
"It would have been very easy to look the other way as far as competing and these guys just refused to do that," said Alford. "This team continues to win. We are getting a lot of notice.
"We are getting national attention, national exposure," said Alford. "The brand is getting out there and people are talking about us as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and this team is not getting distracted by it."
UNM tied a season low with six turnovers – the second game in a row with that few turnovers. New Mexico also out-rebounded Nevada 33-28 and outscored the Wolf Pack 30-22 in the paint. The Lobos also turned 11 Nevada turnovers into 14 points.
After shooting 50% (11 of 22) in the first half, the Wolf Pack was held to 34.5% shooting in the second half, hitting 10 of 29 from the field and a paltry 3 of 10 from behind the three-point line.