The stakes might not have been the same, but Saturday certainly had the feel of an old-school San Diego State Aztecs-University of New Mexico Lobos game in the Pit.
For the first time this season, Dreamstyle Arena had the same roar — even with an announced crowd of 11,418 being a good 4,000 short of the sellouts this Mountain West rivalry used to draw.
And, neither team disappointed.
Despite trailing nearly the entire game, the Lobos closed out on an 11-2 scoring run over the final five minutes, and Antino Jackson capped a season-high scoring night with a game-winning jumper with 22.6 seconds remaining to beat the Aztecs, 79-75.
“I wasn’t thinking about nothing,” said Jackson, who had 24 points, six assists and zero turnovers in 28 minutes. “I knew when I got space, I was going to shoot the ball, and that’s what I did.”
Jackson scored seven points over those final five minutes. UNM (10-11, 5-3) is alone in third place in the league standings. And Paul Weir is the first Lobos coach in the Mountain West era (since 1999-2000) to beat both UNLV and SDSU in his first tries against both.
SDSU (11-7, 3-4 MWC) has lost three consecutive games.
A Malik Pope free throw with 5:00 left put SDSU up 73-66 when Jackson took over. He hit two free throws with 4:55 left to pull UNM within five.
Dane Kuiper then drew a charge from SDSU junior guard Devin Watson in the full-court press, igniting the Pit crowd. It was the loudest Weir says he’s heard it all season.
On the ensuing possession, Anthony Mathis hit a 3-pointer, his final points in a career-best 21-point scoring night, to pull UNM within 73-71.
A Jackson 3 with 2:59 left put UNM up 75-73 and the game was tied again at 75-75 with under 2 minutes to play.
Then for the second time in the past four days, Weir drew up a play during a timeout in the final seconds for Jackson. Wednesday’s win at UNLV didn’t work as drawn up and Mathis hit the game-winner with 17 seconds left. Saturday, Jackson hit a floating jumper for a 77-75 lead.
SDSU then missed at the other end and fouled Joe Furstinger, who, as he did at UNLV, put the finishing touches on a four-point win with two free throws after grabbing a rebound and drawing a foul.
“They made one more play at the end that we didn’t make,” said SDSU’s first-year coach Brian Dutcher. “They made the runner (Jackson’s winner). Devin got in the paint and missed the 8-foot jump shot and that’s the game. Two teams playing identical basketball and one team makes the shot and other team doesn’t. That’s what a fine line it is between winning and losing in this business.”
Four Lobos scored in double figures, and Jackson and Mathis combined to hit 10 of UNM’s 13 3-pointers.
SDSU was led by 16 points apiece from Pope and Watson.
The close games, while exciting for fans, aren’t looked on as fondly by Weir, though he admits the team is clearly learning from them.
“The adversity is really good for us,” he said. “It builds our toughness. I thought — I’m going to ballpark, eight-minute mark to four-minute mark — we weren’t very tough. We missed some free throws. We did some things we shouldn’t have done, but I thought down that stretch, it was Vegas-ish as far as we just walked in (to the huddles) and we just felt like we were going to win this game.”
SPECIAL GUEST: Carlton Bragg, a former Kansas Jayhawk and briefly an Arizona State student, though he never played for the Sun Devils and left school there in December, was sitting in the front row of the UNM student section for Saturday’s game and is being recruited as a transfer for next season by the Lobos.
The 6-foot-9 former McDonald’s All-American averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore in the 2016-17 season for Kansas.
NOTES: UNM’s national championship women’s cross country team was honored at halftime of the game. … During a timeout early in the first half, incoming UNM President Garnett Stokes was presented a Lobos jersey by UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez and Lobo sophomore Vance Jackson, who is sitting out this season mer NCAA transfer rules. … The announced attendance of 11,418 is the third highest of the season in the Pit behind the NMSU and Arizona games. … UNM missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities three times in the game.
Up next: Saturday (Jan . 27), Colorado State at UNM, 7 p.m., espn3.com, 770 AM/94.5 FM