ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Snell Shakes Off Mistakes As UNM Moves to 4-0 in MWC
One month ago, the No. 15 New Mexico Lobos may not have been able to hold off the furious rally they endured Wednesday night in the Pit in a 66-61 win over Colorado State.
That’s because one month ago, Tony Snell was a different player.
Sure the soft-spoken Lobos junior had a game-high 23 points, the first 21 of which played a major role in UNM building a 22-point lead midway through the second half. But he also had two turnovers in the closing moments – one with 20 seconds remaining, the other with 12 seconds left on the clock – that turned into five Rams points, cutting the Lobos lead to 64-61 with 8.2 seconds remaining.
The old Tony Snell would have gone into hiding.
Wednesday, the new Tony Snell shook it off, calmly sinking two free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining in the game to ice the victory that pushed UNM to 17-2 overall and 4-0 in Mountain West play.
“I don’t go back to my shell anymore,” Snell said, flashing an uncustomary smile to reporters.
After the turnovers, UNM coach Steve Alford looked at Snell from the bench and waved his hand in front of his face.
“It’s, you know, wipe it clean and get on to the next play,” Alford said of the hand gesture. “He’s got to move on to the next play.
“Here’s a kid that’s thrown it away two times in a row and you have to go to the line and at least make one of them. That’s a lot of pressure. And he makes both of them. He’s learning to make mistakes and just move on.”
Snell’s maturation helped UNM take a full two-game lead over the rest of the Mountain West. But it almost wasn’t enough.
Colorado State (15-4, 2-2 MWC), the nation’s top rebounding team entering the Pit on Wednesday night, out-rebounded UNM 42-28, including grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. The Lobos never gave up on a possession, though, and surrendered just 13 second-chance points.
“We just got out-toughed throughout most of the game and that’s the culture we’re trying to change here,” first-year CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “Last year we came in here, they laid down and lost by 30.”
UNM’s aggressive game plan resulted in 26 trips to the free-throw line, where the Lobos made 21. That aggression also caused foul trouble, and reduced playing time, for several of the senior starters for CSU.
Forward Greg Smith fouled out and played just 18 minutes, while three other CSU starters – Pierce Hornung, Colton Iverson and Dorian Green – each had limited minutes as they gathered four fouls apiece.
CSU still made its run, though.
“They are a very gritty group,” Alford said. “They just fight you. … And this is without question the most relentless rebounding team we’ve faced all year.”
After a Kendall Williams jumper with 11:56 left in the game capped a 9-0 scoring run and gave the Lobos a seemingly comfortable 54-32 lead, the Rams charged back. A pair of Green free throws with 4:56 remaining finished a 17-3 CSU run that had the lead cut to 57-49.
The teams traded baskets over the next four minutes before a Hornung bucket – off a Snell turnover inbounding the ball – cut the lead to 64-58 with 13.2 seconds left.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Snell coughed it up to Wes Eikmeier, who calmly sank a 3-pointer – his fourth of the game adding to his team-high 20 points – to cut the UNM lead to 64-61 with 8.2 seconds remaining.
UNM had Williams inbound the ball on the next play, passing to Snell who was immediately fouled. He hit both free throws to ice the victory, something he acknowledged may not have happened earlier this season.
“I would get out there and play nervous sometimes,” Snell said. “Now, I’m just relaxing and just play the game.”
CSU shot 36.8 percent in the game, and Iverson finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
After Snell’s 23, only Chad Adams scored in double figures for UNM with 13 points and a team-high six rebounds. UNM shot just 36.5 percent in the game.
AILING KIRK: UNM’s 7-foot center Alex Kirk started Wednesday but had just three points and three rebounds in 21 minutes of court time as he was still feeling the effects of a stomach virus that’s hit several Lobos in the past two weeks.
“He gave us what he could,” Alford said.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal