NORMAL, Ill. — For the second time in seven days, an underdog New Mexico Lobos team found itself locked in a one-point game in the final minute.
And, for the second time in seven days, they came up short, again unable to get a defensive stop when it mattered most.
Illinois State made 14 3-pointers and took advantage of the Lobos missing leading scorer Tim Williams due to a possible concussion, beating UNM 79-74 Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 6,056 in Redbird Arena.
“We started living and dying by the jump shot, which we’ve been trying to get away from,” said UNM coach Craig Neal. His team shot 57.1 percent in the first half but just 34.5 percent in the second half, including 1-of-10 on 3-point attempts.
In Williams’ place, junior Joe Furstinger got his first career start and had career highs in points (nine) and rebounds (11). That, along with junior guard Elijah Brown scoring 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, allowed UNM (5-3) to overcome the Redbirds (4-2) hitting 10 first-half 3s. UNM led 45-42 at the break and extended that to 49-42 in the first 90 seconds of the second half.
Then, the Lobos went cold. Brown was 1-for-9 shooting (1-of-7 from 3-point range) in the final 20 minutes.
With the game tied 55-55 with 10:40 remaining, Neal shouted “Are you kidding me?” after a foul was called on point guard Jalen Harris, leading to a technical called from referee Brad Ferrie. Including the two technical shots, Illinois State scored the next four points and led the rest of the way.
“I got a bad technical at 55-55 and that’s on me,” Neal said. “… I take full responsibility for that.”
After ISU took a 74-64 lead with 3:35 left, UNM went on a 10-1 run to cut the Lobos’ deficit to 75-74 with 57 seconds left. Three free throws from Brown, a reverse layup from point guard Jordan Hunter (six points, seven assists) and a deep 3 from Brown sparked the burst.
“Brown got fouled on a 3 that — I thought the crew did a great job,” ISU coach Dan Muller said. “I thought that was a great contest (from ISU’s Tony Wills). He (Brown) likes to flail and flop his legs. He doesn’t get that and you feel a lot differently. The next 3 he made was a — I don’t know how he made it. He fell down again and made a tough shot.”
But that was as close as it would get. Redbird guard Paris Lee closed out the Lobos with the final four points in his 18-point, 11-assist night.
“We missed Tim,” Neal said. “When you have a guy who’s a 20-point scorer and eight-rebound guy, it’s hard to replace. But I thought our guys played really hard.”
Williams is undergoing a seven- to 10-day precautionary concussion protocol after suffering a head injury in Wednesday’s home win over Abilene Christian. After being cleared to return in that game, he failed follow-up tests Thursday and did not make the trip, despite being from the Chicago area, which is roughly 134 miles away.
“I would have loved to have brought him back to see his mom and his dad and his family,” Neal said. “But the most important thing is his health.”
Williams’ absence, Muller admitted, was huge.
“I think he’s the best big we would have faced all year,” Muller said. “He’s unbelievably good.”