New Mexico (15-4) edge by Colorado State (12-8) in Moby Arena winning 68-66. The Lobos improve to 5-1 in conference play and are 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1984. The Rams are now 3-4.
This was a big win for the Lobos, especially considering that Alex Kirk (14 ppg, 8.9 rpg) sat this game out with a foot or ankle injury. Kirk's mahogany-like presence was surely missed on the defensive end. The Rams had 36 rebounds to the Lobo's 35, including 12 offensive boards to New Mexico's three. Colorado State was also able to capitalize on slash and cut plays with a more open frontcourt.
Despite all that, the Lobos were able to pull this one off. Kendall Williams started slow, but he turned it on when it counted going for 23 points and five assists. Cameron Bairstow scored 19 points and led the Lobos in rebounds with six. Cullen Neal and Hugh Greenwood each scored another eight points.
Colorado State was led by Daniel Bejarano, 21 points and seven rebounds. Joe De Ciman and Jon Octeus both had nice games, scoring 14 and 12, respectively. The MWC's third highest scorer, J.J. Avila, was held to eight points, six of those coming from free-throws. But Avila was a menace defensibly and on the boards (12). Gerson Santo added seven points and nine rebounds.
The Rams led 27-24 at halftime. Bairstow led the Lobos in the first half with eight points. Neal had six. Williams only had four. The Lobos also went a dismal 0-9 from three-point range, compared to CSU's 4-13. Luckily for New Mexico, Williams and Greenwood warmed up in the second half.
Colorado State extended that lead to 35-28 to start the second half, but that's when Williams seemed to awaken as he hit a three-pointer that calmed the crowd and kept the Lobos within striking distance. Neal's two free-throws tied the game at 35-35. Bejarano answered with an amazing an amazing rainbow shot after a Deshawn Delaney foul.
Williams hit another three to tie the game at 40, perhaps conjuring his 10 three-point, 46 point performance the last time he played in Moby Arena. Octeus' three-point play put gave the Rams a five point advantage with around 8:45 to play. And yet again, William hit another big three to keep New Mexico in it.
The Rams built up another lead, 63-60 at the 2:33 mark. It wasn't looking good for the Lobos, but Williams dropped another triple to tie the game. Then Bejarano went 1-1 at the charity stripe to give the Rams a one point lead.
New Mexico called a timeout with 1:13 to go. Greenwood took the ball up the court, picked up his dribble just left of the top of the key. He looked to his left at Williams, and then he seemed to look at the Lobo bench, perhaps asking permission to pull the trigger. And pull the trigger he did, burying a long three to put the lobos up by two. It was a huge shot; one that CSU wasn't able to recover from.
Bairstow deflected a Santos layup, allowing Greenwood to grab the errant ball with 0:45 left. Williams worked it up the court. Then something peculiar and costly to CSU occurred; they did not foul Williams until the 0:10 mark. CSU coach, Larry Eustachy, haggled with the refs over the timing of the shot-clock reset (which was about 10 seconds off), but it was to no avail. Eustachy had a point. If the shot-clock was reset immediately after Greenwood's rebound, CSU would ostensibly have 5-10 seconds if they got a defensive stop.
Williams hit one free throw to go up 67-64. Greenwood fouled Octeus, who hit both free-throws to make it a one point game. Williams went to the line again, and again went 1-1 to give the Lobos a two point lead. Bejarano drove the ball up the court for a layup that bounced off the side of the backboard to seal the deal for the Lobos.
This was a tough game. New Mexico has always done well when trailing at the half. By working their way back on the road, in Moby Arena in front of a feisty crowd, really says something of the Lobos determination. That was something that Coach Craig Neal questioned earlier in the season; I think he'll be pleased after tonight. There were time when it looked like the Rams had the upper-hand, but Williams and Greenwood knew just when to make a play to keep the Lobos close. And again, all of this without starting center and double-double machine, Alex Kirk.
Before tonight's game between SDSU and Utah State, New Mexico is in second place in the MWC, one game behind SDSU. I don't think the Lobos would have had a chance for regular season title if they went down two games to SDSU. For now the hope is still alive. Next up, another incredibly tough road against Utah State on January 28th at 9:00 p.m. MT.