LAS VEGAS -- One down. Two to go.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team pulled away late to sweep past the Wyoming Cowboys, 85-75, in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament on Thursday.
The victory, amid the wild cheers of Lobos fans scattered throughout the stands, marked the first for UNM in the MWC Tournament after three straight years of being one and done. The 2014 tournament, when the Lobos were a No. 2 seed, also was the last time UNM won the event.
The third-seeded Lobos (18-14), who beat the Cowboys for the third time this season, advanced to face Utah State, an upset winner over Boise State, 78-75.
Nevada will take on San Diego State in the other MWC semifinal after wins over UNLV and Fresno State, respectively. The UNM-Utah State semifinal is slated for 8:30 p.m. Pacific time.
Playing at the Thomas & Mack, a place Lobos fans affectionately call “Pit West,” the team looked right at home from the opening tip.
The Lobos controlled the game throughout and never trailed but the Cowboys stayed on their heels until the final minutes. UNM opened with a 10-1 lead and built it to as many as 13 points in the first half before the pesky Cowboys started chipping away. Wyoming cut the deficit to 39-35 at the half and opened the second half with a 3-pointer to trim the lead to one. But the Lobos rebuilt their lead to 10 points with 6:09 left, yet Wyoming never went away and eventually cut the score to 76-73 with 2:55 to go. However, UNM closed the game by hitting 7-of-9 free throws down the stretch as part of a 9-2 run to hold off Wyoming for the victory.
Chants of “Everyone’s a Lobo, woof, woof, woof,” erupted throughout the arena as fans celebrated the improbable run of a Lobo team that keeps defying preseason expectations. The win pushed the Lobos’ winning streak to six games.
Senior center Joe Furstinger led the way with a game-high and new career best 23 points and added nine rebounds. Troy Simons hit for 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and Antino Jackson added 11 points. Four other Lobos had 8 points apiece.
“Yeah, just didn’t want this to be my last college game,” Furstinger said in the postgame media conference. “Me and coach we’ve been close, Antino, we just didn’t want it to be our last game together.”
UNM split its two games with Utah State this season, with each team winning on its homecourt. The Lobos likely will have to contain Utah State’s leading scorer Sam Merrill if they’re going to advance to Saturday’s championship. Merrill scored 28 points on a career-best seven 3-pointers to lead the seventh-seeded Aggies past the No. 2 seeded Broncos.
Coach Paul Weir said the Lobos briefly went over a scouting report on the Aggies after the game. "Hopefully by tomorrow (tonight) at 8:30 p.m. we'll be locked and loaded," Weir said.