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Hope Floats for Lobos

UNM squandered all of a 14-point second-half lead but prevailed in overtime

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Fresno State
Lobos center Joe Furstinger ended Senior Night on a high note with a 95-86 overtime victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The University of New Mexico‘s Senior Night appeared it was going to end like the scary sequel to “Fright Night: The Boise Incident.”

You remember that movie, right? A team of surging Lobos about to snatch an unexpected victory but instead fades in the final minutes as the bad dudes from Boise State break their hearts on Valentine’s Day with a furious rally in the final seconds. Lobos lose. Roll credits.

This time the Lobos’ foil was Fresno State. This movie was shaping up in similar fashion. This game was finishing with the same gruesome ugliness of the original.

These same Lobos let a 14-point second-half lead fizzle amid a 3-point barrage from the Bulldogs in the final few minutes. Just like in the Boise Incident, the Lobos committed some critical turnovers in the waning moments to aid their enemies.

This sequel seemed headed for the same unhappy ending as Fresno State cut UNM’s five-point lead on a steal by Fresno State’s Sam Bittner who passed to Jahmel Taylor for a layup with 47 seconds left to make the score 81-78. After another UNM turnover on an inbounds play, Taylor tied the game on yet another 3-point dagger with 17 seconds left, setting himself up as the hero of this frighteningly familiar flick. Two attempts by the Lobos to win the game in the final seconds failed, the last by Anthony Mathis on a drive to the basket at the buzzer.

End of regulation. Score tied 81-81 as the elated Fresno State players celebrated and the dazed Lobos retreated to regroup in their huddle.

(Cut. Insert last-minute plot twist. Take 2. Pick it up with the Lobos and Bulldogs in overtime. Use best narrator voice.)

Instead of folding, a team of unheralded Lobos, a team that started the season 3-8, a team picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll, a team that faced so many ups and downs throughout a sometimes turbulent season, somehow banded together around their trio of unsung seniors, to turn the ending to this show into something more like “Hope Floats.”

Lobos outscored the Bulldogs 14-5 in the extra minutes and escaped, 95-86.

(As dramatic music plays in the background and a collective sigh of relief rises from the 13,069 fans in Dreamstyle Arena The Pit.)

As the final seconds ticked away, head coach Paul Weir subbed for seniors Joe Furstinger, Antino Jackson and Sam Logwood to the applause of the audience, and the three were honored in a postgame ceremony as much of the crowd stuck around to show their appreciation, including their first-year head coach.

”The three seniors are terrific young men, I’m really happy for them, particularly the guys who have been here and maybe have been through a lot the past few years,” Weir said in his postgame media conference. “To finish with a good conference season like this maybe makes up for some things that weren’t great in the past, and then Antino came in and had a really good year for us, too.”

It won’t be mentioned in the movie credits, but still deserves recognition. The win over the Bulldogs was the Lobos fifth straight and clinched the No. 3 seed for UNM in the Mountain West tournament March 7-10 in Las Vegas. UNM (17-14 overall, 12-6 in league play) receives a first-round bye and will play the winner between No. 6 seed Wyoming and No. 11 San Jose State. Tipoff for UNM’s quarterfinal matchup is slated for Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Mountain time at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Lobos swept both the Cowboys and Spartans during the regular season and would appear to have a favorable bracket with regular season champion Nevada, streaking San Diego State, and tournament host UNLV on the other side of the bracket.

If UNM wins its first game, the Lobos likely would face No. 2 seed Boise State in the semifinals, giving them a chance to add one more dramatic scene to this tantalizing trilogy.

Imagine three more victories, a 20-win season, an NCAA berth. It could happen, after all, for these sky-high Lobos, hope still floats.

SENORITIS

The three seniors thanked Coach Weir in their speeches to the fans in the postgame ceremony. An emotion-filled Logwood, at one point during his time on the mic, bent over in tears when mentioning his coach, as his teammates and coaches surrounded him for support.

All three also thanked the fans for their increasing support after the rough start in non-conference play.

“I don’t even know what to say. The fans, they are unreal and unbelievable,” said Jackson, a graduate transfer this season. “This place is really home. They made me feel like I’m really at home in just a small amount of time, but I feel like I’ve been here for four years. ... This is a very special city, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”

GAME NOTES

  • Five Lobos finished in double figures in scoring vs. Fresno State, led by Mathis, who had 23 points for his 18th straight game in double digits. Jackson and Troy Simons each had 16 points, Logwood added 12 and Furstinger finished with 11.

The Lobos outrebounded the Bulldogs 31-26 and UNM’S bench outscored FSU’s 44-12.