Highlights from Semifinal 2 of the 2018 @MountainWest Men’s Basketball Tournament as No. 3 @UNMLoboMBB defeats No. 7 @USUBasketball, 83-68. #MWMadness https://t.co/AYX2LlyNu9 @MW_MBB pic.twitter.com/RIeNLYBHOS
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) March 10, 2018
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — A couple old friends, who are under new management, are streaking into quite the unlikely championship game reunion Saturday afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center.
And this time, the No. 3 seed New Mexico Lobos, winners of seven consecutive games after a comfortable 83-68 Friday night semifinal win over No. 7 Utah State, and the No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs, blowout winners over top-seed Nevada, will be playing not only for Mountain West tournament championship nets, but a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The last time the two played in the MWC tournament was in 2014 when the Lobos last won a league tournament title before going on a three-year winless streak in the event.
On Friday, the Lobos (19-14), under first-year head coach Paul Weir, continue their prove-’em-all-wrong campaign after being picked to finish ninth in the 11-team league in a preseason media poll and starting the season with a 3-8 record. UNM got a combined 32 points (16 apiece) from its starting senior frontcourt of Sam Logwood and Joe Furstinger — the team’s two four-year seniors who had never won a conference tournament game before this week — and used a 24-2 first-half scoring run to take charge of Friday night’s semifinal.
Junior Troy Simons added a team-high 17 points, hit three 3-pointers and was 4-of-4 from the free throw line for UNM, which was 20-of-25 (80 percent) from the charity stripe.
Utah State (17-17), playing its third game in as many days and looking the part most of the game of the more tired team, went on a 12-0 run in the first half that coincided with the Lobos missing five consecutive shots over a 4-minute, 38- second span. That stretch saw a 12-8 Lobos lead turn into a 20-12 Aggies advantage with 9:44 left in the first half.
That’s when the pro-Lobos announced crowd of 8,224 in the Thomas & Mack Center started to come alive.
UNM went on a 24-2 scoring run and held the Aggies to only one field goal in the final 9:44 of the half, taking a 37-25 lead into the locker room.
The lead grew to 23 in the second half for the Lobos, who hit 12-of-15 free throws in the second half to ice the game despite the Aggies making several modest runs. Utah State cut the deficit back to single digits (77-68) with under 2 minutes left in the game on a Koby McEwen bucket with 1:50 left in the game.
McEwen, who scored 31 points when the Aggies beat the Lobos on Jan. 31 in Logan, finished with 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting (1-of-6 from 3). His fellow sophomore star guard Sam Merrill, who scored 33 vs. UNM in Dreamstyle Arena on Feb. 14, scored 17 points but was held to 3-of-8 shooting from the 3-point line.
The Lobos had hit double-digit 3-pointers for 12 straight games to end the regular season, but hit just seven (of 24 tries) on Friday and hit just seven in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Wyoming. Leading scorer Anthony Mathis and was held scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting, but it hardly mattered on Friday night.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FINAL: The Aztecs, under first year coach Brian Dutcher, put together one of the most impressive performances, certainly one of the best first halves, in Mountain West tournament history on Friday night.
SDSU (21-10), winners of eight consecutive games, knocked off No. 22 Nevada behind all five starters scoring in double figures and an absolutely jaw-dropping first half in which the Aztecs led 55-25 at the break and coasted throughout the second half.
UNM beat SDSU in their only regular season game, 79-75, in Albuquerque on Jan. 20.
Before SDSU’s current streak of eight wins, the Aztecs were sitting at 5-7 in league play and had just come off back-to-back blowout losses to Fresno State and Nevada.
BOX SCORE: No. 3 New Mexico 83, No. 7 Utah State 68
Saturday: Mountain West Tournament Final: No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 3 New Mexico, 3 p.m. PT/4 p.m. MT, CBS Sport, 770 AM/94.5 FM