For the second time this season, the Wyoming gave New Mexico all it could handle for 40 minutes.
And for the second time this season, the Lobos came up big when it mattered most, outlasting the Cowboys in overtime.
Lobo big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk combined for 38 points and 21 rebounds to lead UNM to a 66-61 overtime victory over the visiting Cowboys on Wednesday night.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said of Wyoming. “They did exactly what they wanted to do. They slowed the tempo down. They kept it in the 50s (through regulation). …
“But I’ve said it before, a one point win is a blowout in my book. It took us overtime, but we’re 18-4, 9-1 (Mountain West).”
The win leaves the Lobos a half game behind league leading San Diego State, which came from behind to win at Boise State earlier in the night to improve to 9-0 in league play.
Wyoming, playing without second leading scorer Josh Adams (suspended one game for throwing a punch Saturday against Utah State) and head coach Larry Shyatt (home sick with a viral infection), falls to 14-8, 5-3 in league play.
After not seeming comfortable for the first 37 minutes of what was a slow, sloppy and physical game, the Lobos finally thought they gained control in the final three minutes of regulation.
A Hugh Greenwood to Deshawn Delaney alley-oop with 2:35 remaining pushed the Lobos lead to 55-51 and brought the 15,077 in attendance to their feet. Two possessions later, the Lobos defense held Wyoming to an out of bounds play with only three seconds remaining on the shot clock. A long pass from the baseline to 10 feet beyond the key to guard Charles Hankerson Jr. seemingly was what the Lobos wanted, until the 6-foot-4 junior from Miami took a few dribbles forward and drained a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 55-54.
“I thought the game was in hand when we were up four with three seconds on the shot clock,” Neal said. “That’s one thing Deshawn (Delaney, the Lobo guarding Hankerson has) got to learn situations and different things he hasn’t had to deal with. He kind of let the guy dribble into a 3 and he made it. Those are learning points for me as a coach and for our team. But a win’s a win.”
But it don’t come easy. Less than one minute after the Hankerson 3-pointer, Jerron Granberry drained a long 3-pointer to take a 57-55 lead with just 53 seconds to play. A Bairstow jumper with 37 seconds remaining tied the game.
The Lobos defense forced Larry Nance Jr. into a fadeaway jumper in the lane over the outstretched arm of the 7-foot tall Kirk, a shot that rimmed off and into the hands of Delaney, sending the two teams into overtime for the second time this season.
“That’s our go-to play to win the game and I got good enough separation on Kirk,” Nance said. “I knew I could beat him on foot. The shot just just didn’t drop. Maybe an inch shorter and we would have won that game.”
Just as they did on Jan. 8 when the they beat the Cowboys 72-69 in overtime in Laramie, Wyo., the Lobos were in control throughout the extra period. UNM turned to its seniors, getting four points from Bairstow and five from guard Kendall Williams, all from the free throw line, to ice the victory and survive one of their more uneven performances in weeks.
The Lobos, who averaged a league-low 8.1 turnovers per league game entering Wednesday night, had seven turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the game and ended with 13 in the game. UNM also struggled from outside, shooting just 1-of-10 from 3-point range with the team’s only make being a 35-footer late in the shot clock in the first half by freshman Cullen Neal.
“You’re going to have bumps in the road and to be able to overcome them is what’s important,” Greenwood said. “We were able to do that the second half.”
Bairstow led all scorers with 23 points and 11 rebounds while Kirk added 15 and 10. Williams had 13 points on a rough 2-of-13 shooting night, including 0-of-6 from 3-point range, but hit nine of his 12 free throw attempts. Williams, top five in the Mountain West in assist-to-turnover ratio, also had four turnovers and no assists on Wednesday.
“Even though Kendall has a bad game, I mean look at the free throws he made late,” Neal said. “He’s always making big plays. I’m a little concerned about how he played, but you can’t play great every game.”
Wyoming had four players score in double figures, led by guard Riley Grabau’s 12 on 4-of-6 3-pointers. Nance Jr. had 10 points, four blocked shots and three steals in the game.
The Lobos out-rebounded the Cowboys 43-22, including 16-4 on the offensive glass to lead to a 17-2 advantage in second chance points. Nance Jr.’s offensive rebound and basket with 10:45 remaining in the game ended a streak of 73 minutes, 15 seconds without a second-chance basket from an opponent, dating to the second half of the team’s Jan. 28 win at Utah State.
UNM led Wyoming 28-27 at halftime thanks to a 22-9 rebounding edge. The Lobos were led by their two Aussies as Bairstow and Greenwood combined for 17 of the team’s 28 points on 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) shooting. The rest of the Lobos roster was 3-of-11 in the opening half for 11 points.
Nance Jr. had three first-half highlight reel dunks for his six points while frontcourt mate Derek Cooke Jr. had a team-high seven points at the break.
UNM is off this weekend and plays at Boise State next Wednesday.