CHARLESTON, S.C. — Lobo big man Alex Kirk had the individual performance of a lifetime Friday in the TD Arena.
But the collective parts of the Massachusetts Minutemen were even better.
There would be no miracle comeback this go-round for the No. 19 New Mexico Lobos, who tied the game at 61-61 only to then be held without a field goal for the final 7 minutes, 56 seconds of Friday’s Charleston Classic semifinal, falling to UMass 81-65.
Less than 24 hours after their double-overtime win over Alabama-Birmingham, UNM coach Craig Neal said fatigue was as big a problem as any for his team.
“We got it to 61-61 and kind of let it get away from us,” Neal said. “I stopped it (with a timeout) down seven and probably should have stopped it sooner to give our guys rest from last night. I thought we were prepared for the press. But that’s on me. I need to do a better job on that. I thought our guys gave good effort.”
The effort may have been there for his team, but the production was not with the exception of Kirk, who had a career-high 32 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots in 39 minutes. He played 44 minutes Thursday.
UNM (3-1) struggled to handle a full-court press, had 18 turnovers (seven from Kendall Williams and six by Cullen Neal), shot less than 40 percent for the second consecutive game and was outplayed in the post, the assumed strength of the team.
The Lobos’ Australian duo of Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow played a combined eight minutes in the first half after drawing two fouls, apiece, in the first five minutes of the game.
The Minutemen (5-0) out-rebounded the Lobos 43-41, outscored them 46-26 in the paint and relentlessly continued to attack the rim despite UNM tying a school record with 12 blocked shots.
Center Cady Lalanne had 16 points, six blocked shots and said his 10 offensive rebounds were all about knowing UNM couldn’t stop the dribble-drive penetration of the Minutemen guards, leading to Kirk and Bairstow having to leave their men to help defensively.
“The big man is going to go help every time Chaz (Williams, UMass’ 5-foot-9 senior point guard) is driving,” Lalanne said. “As soon as they got out of position, I just went and tried to crash the boards. He’s out of position.”
Chaz Williams ran the offense and finished with a team-high 19 points and five assists.
UMass used two big scoring runs in the game to set the tone. A 14-0 run in the first half turned a 27-22 Lobos lead into a 36-27 UMass advantage. In the second half, UNM expended a lot of energy clawing back to tie the game at 61-61 on a Kirk jumper with 7:56 remaining, only to seemingly run out of gas.
UNM went 0-for-8 from the field in the final 7:56, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
Minutemen head coach Derek Kellogg said he thought UNM’s game plan to speed up the game, especially after Thursday’s double-overtime outing, played right into his pregame strategy of keeping the Lobo guards uncomfortable and wearing them down.
“I didn’t anticipate a 20-4 run (to close the game), but we did figure — we were hoping — they would get tired,” Kellogg said.
Coach Neal agreed stamina was an issue.
“I think it might be a little problem with playing two overtimes and having to turn around and play at 2:30 p.m. (EST),” Neal said. “But that’s not an excuse.”
Kirk said he doesn’t anticipate the high volume of court time or high pace of the Lobos offense to be a problem in UNM’s consolation game Sunday.
“I feel fine,” Kirk said. “I feel like I just played a basketball game. … I’ll be ready for Sunday. I’m not worried about that at all.”
T’EED OFF: For the second time in two days, game officials seemed to keep the chatter of Lobos players on a short leash and even called Craig Neal for his second technical foul in two games.
“I’ve just got two technicals this tournament for saying ‘That’s a foul,’” Neal said when asked about why he was called for the technical.
UMASS 81, No. 19 NEW MEXICO 65
Carter 4-9 0-0 9, Putney 7-13 1-2 18, Lalanne 7-18 2-2 16, Gordon 4-8 3-6 11, Williams 6-14 4-4 19, Dyson 0-0 0-0 0, Esho 4-8 0-0 8, Santee 0-0 0-0 0, Bergantino 0-1 0-0 0, Davis 0-3 0-0 0, Berger 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-74 10-14 81.
NEW MEXICO (3-1)
Bairstow 4-8 0-0 8, Kirk 11-26 6-8 32, Thomas 0-5 0-0 0, Greenwood 1-3 0-0 2, K. Williams 5-12 3-4 13, Edwards 0-2 0-0 0, Aget 0-0 1-2 1, Neal 1-3 0-0 3, Banyard 0-1 0-0 0, Delaney 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 25-64 10-14 65.
Halftime—UMass 38-33. 3-Point Goals—UMass 7-17 (Putney 3-6, Williams 3-6, Carter 1-3, Davis 0-2), New Mexico 5-18 (Kirk 4-7, Neal 1-2, Greenwood 0-2, Thomas 0-2, Edwards 0-2, K. Williams 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—UMass 43 (Lalanne 14), New Mexico 41 (Kirk 11). Assists—UMass 13 (Williams 5), New Mexico 13 (K. Williams 5). Total Fouls—UMass 15, New Mexico 16. Technical—New Mexico Bench. A—1,730.