RENO, Nev. — They had a shot at the upset in the closing seconds.
And, for the third time this season — against likely three of the best teams they’ll face — the University of New Mexico Lobos found themselves on the wrong end of a one-possession loss.
The fact that Saturday’s near-upset — a 77-74 loss to the defending Mountain West champion Nevada Wolf Pack — came in a hostile road environment before a raucous 9,530 fans in Reno’s Lawlor Events Center did nothing to ease the sting for Lobos coach Paul Weir.
“I’m glad Nevada’s a good team,” Weir said. “I’m glad, I guess, we were close. But I’m so over moral victories. … We lost the game. I’m glad theoretically that some of the things we’re trying to do are working, but they’re obviously not working enough to win a game.”
Four Nevada starters scored in double figures, led by 24 points from Caleb Martin and 21 points and 10 rebounds from Jordan Caroline. UNM’s bench outscored Nevada’s 45-2 and four Lobos scored in double figures, including 17 points from Anthony Mathis, 12 to go along with eight assists from Antino Jackson and 10 points and 10 rebounds for Joe Furstinger, the fourth-consecutive double-double for the senior.
The Lobos (6-9, 1-1 Mountain West) trailed by 12 points in the first half, but scratched and clawed their way back to tie it and still were within two on a Sam Logwood layup with 55 seconds remaining.
Over the next 50 seconds, Weir showed his frustration on the sideline with two plays under the Nevada (13-3, 2-0) basket he felt should have been offensive fouls on the Wolf Pack. Instead, one was called a jump ball with possession going to Nevada, and the other was called a block that fouled out Furstinger with 17 seconds remaining. It led to Jordan Caroline hitting one of two free throws for the 77-74 lead, setting up the frantic final possession for the Lobos.
Though visibly upset during the game, Weir wasn’t about to use the calls as an excuse afterward.
“Until I see the film, I don’t know and I don’t want to blame the loss on officials,” Weir said. “It wouldn’t be on them.”
The Lobos still had their shot to tie the game with 17 seconds remaining.
A missed Mathis 3 with 7 seconds remaining went out of bounds to the Lobos, under their basket, with 4.5 seconds remaining.
UNM drew up a play that wound up with Chris McNeal taking pass deep in the corner and hoisting a 3-point attempt that was blocked out of bounds by Nevada’s Lindsey Drew with 2.3 seconds remaining.
“We were basically setting some screens to get shooters open and then pop out of it,” Weir said. “I thought Chris was free. Drew’s obviously a great player, closed the gap really well and blocked it. That deep corner is a tough angle to get a shot out of there.”
But the Lobos had yet another chance, drawing up a play for Logwood to inbound the ball from the deep corner of the court over a leaping Caroline.
The ball never made its way on Logwood’s deflected pass to McNeal, and the final seconds ticked away for the Nevada win.
“That angle of the floor, there’s just not a lot of real estate to work with when you have to have a 3,” Weir said. “We had something drawn up. Unfortunately in that part of the floor, there’s just not a lot of room to get something drawn up. We tried. Unfortunately Nevada, they have great length and great versatility.”
It was the third time this season UNM had a shot to tie or win a game on the final possession — a 69-67 loss to nationally ranked TCU on Nov. 24, a 65-62 loss to New Mexico State on Dec. 9 and Saturday.
The trip down memory lane did nothing for Weir.
“Yeah, we’ve had three one-possession losses,” Weir said. “I don’t know what else to say. It sucks.”
For Nevada, which has been hit hard in recent weeks with an upper respiratory sickness that has led to several limited or missed practices, surviving the Lobos was received with mixed emotions.
“I don’t think we’re satisfied,” said head coach Eric Musselman. “I think New Mexico did a really good job. They came in. They executed their game plan. They’re well-coached. For Nevada, our thing was just how do we get out of this thing and try to get healthy because we are really, really sick. That’s no excuse, because we didn’t play as well as we wanted to.”
Here is a video of the Lobos’ inbounds play from the corner with 2.3 seconds remaining, down 3.
Final play in Nevada’s 77-74 win over UNM in Reno. pic.twitter.com/ObQAETYnEr
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) December 31, 2017