This game had all the ingredients of one of the best conference games of the season: great defense, numerous lead changes, and last minute controversy. It was no surprise that the two teams went into overtime to find the victor. Unfortunately for Lobos fans, that victor was San Diego State.
This game started out close, but the Lobos jumped out to a 18-14 lead in the first half with approximately ten minutes to go. It was at that time that the Aztecs turned up their offense and went on a 10-0 run to regain the lead. UNM would reemerge as the leaders going into intermission at 29-28 after they responded with a run of their own that was fueled by Elijah Brown's ability to get to the free throw line and the steady play of Tim Williams.
To be clear, the first half was decidedly defensive in nature. The Lobos shot 30% from the field (10-33) and 12.5% (1-8) from three. SDSU also shot miserably: 10-26 from the field and 1-11 from deep. The defensive tone was set early with Dakari Allen's physical defense against Elijah Brown. Allen picked up three fouls in the first half alone, but he also forced Brown into an uncomfortable 0-6 half. New Mexico's own defensive stopper, Sam Logwood, had four steals and one block in the first twenty minutes.
Both offenses started clicking more in the second half. The Lobos came out aggressive with the offense running through Tim Williams. Williams used his footwork and soft touch to pour in 21 points to go with 7 boards for the game. The two teams continued to trade baskets and the lead until the Lobos went on a four minute scoring drought beginning at 14:10 in the second. SDSU began a run during the middle of that drought and stretched the lead to 48-41 with nine minutes to play. Surely most thought that the game was over at this point given the fact that SDSU has the best opponents field goal percentage in the country. Aztecs' true freshman guard Jeremy Hemsley and do-it-all forward Winston Shepard, who finished the game with 23 and 15 points respectively, really took over the game during this time. Shepard was doing it on both ends of the court with a monster block and solid rebounding. He really disrupted the Lobos' offense.
But New Mexico was resilient and came back with a clutch Xavier Adams three that put the Lobos up 59-57 with 2:36 left. On the ensuing play a block by Tim Williams led to a Cullen Neal fast break layup and a 61-57 lead. Suddenly, the tides had turned. Hemsley came back with a jumper that cut the lead to two that was quickly extended again to four by two automatic free throws from Elijah Brown (who led the Lobos with 23 points). Hemsley got a layup that cut the lead to 63-61 with 80 seconds to go. Brown, using a high screen from Tim Williams, knocked down a three-point dagger over Shepard to put UNM up 66-61 with 22 seconds remaining. That should have been the game.
Should have been.
SDSU scored quick to cut the lead to three. All the Lobos had to do was inbound the ball. The play seemed to be for Cullen Neal, the original passer, to throw the ball to Xavier Adams who would also be standing out of bounds and who would then make another pass to get the ball in bounds. According to Coach Neal's post-game comments, this is a play that UNM has practiced multiple times. It is a totally legal play off of an opponent's made basket.
The referees however ruled that Adams caught the ball before he had established himself out of bounds. This call has since been corrected by the Mountain West Conference in a press release that I will put at the bottom of this post. At the time that the play happened, it was called a turnover. With the Aztecs now inbounding the ball under their own basket, Malik Pope quickly knocked down a three. Elijah Brown raced down the court but couldn't get a shot off before the end of regulation. With the score knotted at 66-66, overtime beckoned.
Overtime was anti-climactic after the finish to regulation. The Lobos were emotionally drained from the erroneous call. They managed to jump out to a 71-68 lead with 2:10 left, but they didn't score again. Shepard and Hemsley scored all of the Aztecs' overtime points. UNM remained close: with 17 seconds left they were down 71-74 with the ball. A clever half-court trap by SDSU forced Cullen Neal into a bad turnover and that basically settled the game.
The Lobos take on Utah State on Tuesday in Utah at 8 pm MST. San Diego State goes on to face Fresno State on Wednesday at 9 pm MST.
Press Release from Mountain West on the out of bounds play:
With 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation in this evening’s New Mexico at San Diego State game, the official covering the in-bounds play ruled the New Mexico player had not established out-of-bounds status before receiving the ball. The result was a turnover which gave the ball to San Diego State.
While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect. The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1. By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.
The Mountain West will have no further comment.