LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Another opportunity squandered.
And this time it wasn’t close.
For the second time in the past four days, the New Mexico men’s basketball team had a shot to make a national-level statement — and work its way near the top of the Mountain West Conference race.
For the second time in four days, the Lobos came up short.
On Saturday, 14th-ranked UNLV took control late in the first half and literally ran away from the Lobos for a 80-63 victory at a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center.
The loss comes on the heels of a 75-70 setback against 16th-ranked San Diego State on Wednesday in the Pit, leaving the Lobos 15-4 overall and 1-2 in the league. They had won 13 straight before the week started.
“We played two really good teams,” said UNM coach Steve Alford. “This one was going to be tough regardless, and we had a poor second half against San Diego State at home. We just have to regroup, get better, get a little bit healthier with Hugh (Greenwood), and hope to have a good week next week.”
Greenwood, coming off an ankle injury, started for the first time in four games. But the freshman point guard couldn’t match the Rebels’ speed and athleticism. No Lobo could.
The Rebels (18-3, 2-1) killed New Mexico in the transition game all evening while putting on a clinic in front of 18,577 boisterous fans. UNLV spotted the Lobos an early 18-13 lead before getting up 39-31 late in the opening half.
The Rebels led 39-35 at intermission, then blew it open in the second half as the Lobos couldn’t answer UNLV’s fast breaks and harassing defense.
The Rebels forced 21 turnovers and outscored the Lobos by a whopping 26-0 on fast-break points. New Mexico looked helpless as UNLV worked the lead to 74-52. The Rebels then put it on cruise control.
“You could definitely see their players on the bench dropping their heads. You could feel their energy drop,” said UNLV guard Anthony Marshall, who had 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds to help offset his six turnovers. “That energy we got came from conditioning real hard and the coaching staff working us in the preseason.”
“And the crowd,” added UNLV forward Mike Moser, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. “These fans are the best in the league. They were amazing.”
New Mexico sophomore guard Kendall Williams, who had nine points in the first eight minutes to help his team to that early five-point lead, said UNLV’s pressure was the difference.
“They’re an unselfish bunch,” said Williams, who had 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. “They do a good job getting out in transition. They’re a fast team. They’re able to get into their tempo and into the groove. It makes it tough to stay with them.”
The Lobos had solid outings from their big men, seniors A.J. Hardeman (10 points, four rebounds) and Drew Gordon (14 points, 12 rebounds), but both were left on the other end of the floor far too often as the Rebels blazed away on fast breaks.
Only six players scored for UNM, with Phillip McDonald having five points and Cameron Bairstow four.
Backup post Carlos Lopez tied a career high with 14 points while Chace Stanback scored 13 and Justin Hawkins 10 for UNLV.
NOTE: New Mexico recruit Winston Shepard had a great outing earlier Saturday, leading Findlay Prep to a 73-61 over Bishop Gorman in a battle of nationally ranked high school teams in the Vegas area that was televised by ESPNU.
Shepard, a 6-foot-8 guard/forward, had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and held the nation’s top ranked player — 6-foot-5 wing Shabazz Muhammad — to eight points through the first three quarters. Muhammad finished with 19 points, making 11 in the fourth quarter but with the game out of reach.
Shepard made an official visit to UNM in the fall but is being recruited by numerous schools. He says his final list includes the Lobos, San Diego State, UNLV, UConn, St. Johns, Oregon and Oklahoma State.
NEW MEXICO (15-4)
Hardeman 5-11 0-0 10, Gordon 6-11 2-2 14, Greenwood 0-4 0-1 0, Williams 4-10 5-6 15, Snell 4-10 3-4 15, Dunning 0-0 0-0 0, Fenton 0-2 0-0 0, McDonald 2-7 0-0 5, Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Bairstow 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 22-57 12-15 63.
Stanback 5-9 0-0 13, Moser 7-16 0-0 14, Massamba 3-3 0-0 6, Bellfield 2-6 0-0 6, Marshall 6-13 1-1 13, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Wallace 0-0 2-2 2, Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Lopez 3-5 8-14 14, Hawkins 3-5 2-2 10. Totals 30-58 13-19 80.
Halftime-UNLV 39-35. 3-Point Goals-New Mexico 7-22 (Snell 4-7, Williams 2-6, McDonald 1-5, Hardeman 0-1, Fenton 0-1, Greenwood 0-2), UNLV 7-21 (Stanback 3-6, Hawkins 2-3, Bellfield 2-6, Moser 0-3, Marshall 0-3). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-New Mexico 38 (Gordon 12), UNLV 33 (Moser 10). Assists-New Mexico 11 (Greenwood 4), UNLV 17 (Marshall 9). Total Fouls-New Mexico 17, UNLV 16. A-18,577.