Everyone in the Mountain West knows that Elijah Brown and Tim Williams are the keys to the scoring prowess of the New Mexico Lobos.
And while the two players who were preseason all-league selections have remained the focus of opposing teams’ scouting reports, Lobos head coach Craig Neal has been repeating over the past several weeks that for the team to reach full potential, it needs to find a third and fourth scoring option.
While he has used the word “scorer” in those reference, he’s gone on to explain the Lobos (9-5, 2-0 Mountain West), who play Wednesday at Utah State, primarily need playmakers who can affect the game when opposing teams double up their efforts to shut down the stars.
While Brown (22 points) and Williams (12 points, nine rebounds four assists) again dominated the stat sheet in UNM’s 68-62 upset victory Sunday over San Diego State, the game was won not because of the headliners, but because of junior forward Xavier Adams, sophomore guard Dane Kuiper and freshman point guard Jalen Harris.
With 6:15 remaining in the game, the Aztecs took a 56-47 lead on a Valentine Izundu alley-oop dunk that had the sold-out crowd in Viejas Arena on its feet and as loud as at any point in the game.
Then, the Lobo “others” stepped up.
“I think we were up nine points with a little over six minutes to go and we lost Kuiper on a little screen and he made a 3,” recalled SDSU head coach Steve Fisher on the turning point of the game.
But it wasn’t just that 3 for Kuiper, which was assisted by Harris. On the ensuing defensive possession, Kuiper blocked a Trey Kell shot, and Adams grabbed the rebound. That led to a Harris basket and a 5-0 run. On the next UNM defensive possession, it was Harris with a block, leading on the other end to a Brown miss and Kuiper offensive rebound, setting up another bucket for a Williams and a 7-0 UNM run.
The trio of “others” wasn’t done.
Adams grabbed an offensive rebound with 3:54 remaining, leading to his scoring on a layup later in the possession. And Adams’s two free throws with 1:50 remaining gave UNM a 62-61 lead, its first since 2-0.
Then came the closing 1:03 that put the exclamation point on the victory.
SDSU’s Jeremy Hemsley tied the game at 62-62 before missing a second free throw that Kuiper rebounded, leading to two Williams points.
Two Williams free throws with 45 seconds left gave UNM a four-point lead. Then Kuiper stole the ball with 23 seconds remaining, leading to a Harris dunk.
Kuiper rebounded a SDSU miss with nine seconds left to seal the game.
“(UNM) did what we did to them here last year — found a way to win a game that didn’t look like they were going to win,” Fisher said of the finish.
And it wasn’t a way most, especially not SDSU, expected.
In all over that final 6:15 when SDSU expected Brown and Williams to close the game, the “others” stats looked like this:
• Kuiper: 3 points, 1 block, 3 rebounds (1 offensive), 1 steal
• Adams: 4 points, 3 rebounds (1 offensive)
• Harris: 6 points, 1 assist, 1 block.
INJURY UPDATE: Neal said Monday sophomore point guard Jordan Hunter would not play Wednesday at Utah State after rolling an already injured right ankle in the second half at SDSU. Hunter, who did not return to the game, was walking on his own power, albeit with a heavy limp, after the game.
Backing up Harris on Wednesday will be both sophomore Anthony Mathis, while Brown will also man the point at times.
There was not a status update on the injured left hand of center Obij Aget.
New Mexico at Utah State
9 p.m., ESPNU, 770 AM/94.5 FM