Lobos repel Rebels, head to MWC title game

Sophomore Kendall Williams and junior transfer Demetrius Walker hit every one of their free throws in the final minute-and-a-half of Friday night's UNM-UNLV Men's Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinal in Las Vegas. Rebel guard Anthony Marshall did not. And that was the edge as the second-seeded Lobos defeated three-seed UNLV 72-67 to advance to the MWC title game Saturday afternoon.

Williams and Walker each hit 4-of-4 freebies while Marshall missed the front end of a two-shot foul with 1:18 left in the game. The miss, and a blown dunk with 15 seconds left in the game, turned out to be the deciding factors in the game as the second-seeded New Mexico (26-6) held off a late charge from the 20th-ranked Rebels.

That UNM was even in a position to win the game was a surprise considering the way the Lobos started. The Rebels got off to a 17-4 start in the first half but steadily reversed the tide, eventually taking the lead and eventually the win.

"We've been an outstanding road team all year long, whether we've been on neutral floor or a road floor," said head coach Steve Alford. "To win the way we did tonight, getting down 17-4, I think it was our largest comeback of the season. To do it against a team like this speaks volumes of just how well we're playing. We took a great punch in the mouth to start the game and our guys just stayed poised and kept fighting. I'm very, very proud of how they hung in there."

The Lobos will face top-seeded San Diego St., which beat Colorado St.79-69 earlier in the evening to set up the rubber match Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. MST in the Thomas & Mack Center.

"You know, like I said basically this whole season, we got a chip on our shoulders," said senior Drew Gordon, who scored a game-high 19 points. "You know, when that happens, plus the chemistry we have together of us being basically brothers, it works. We know where we're supposed to be at on the floor. We know we can get each other's timing down of where we will be. I think we have an edge up on some teams when it comes to that."

Gordon pulled in 12 rebounds for his 16th double-double of his career and his 29th double-dip of his college career. Tony Snell added 15 points, eight straight points at the beginning of the second half to spark the Lobos. Walker added 12 points while Williams added seven, including four in the final minute.

Marshall scored 19 while Oscar Bellfield added 13 points and Mike Moser scored 11 for UNLV. The Rebels top shooters shot just 13-of-35 (37%). UNLV (26-8) would finish with 21-59 shooting (35%). UNM shot 26-50 (52%) from the field and 15-of-17 (88%) on free throws.

After trailing big early in the game, UNM turned up the defense and reversed their fortunes, posting a 21-6 run first half run to get back in the game. UNLV would lead 34-31 at halftime.

After the two teams traded treys to being the second half, Snell hit a jumper and a trey to give UNM a 39-37 lead. UNLV's Brice Massamba tied the game back at 39-39 moments later but Snell then came down and knocked down another trey to give the Lobos a 42-39 lead. The Lobos would never trail again.

UNM pushed their lead to 64-56 on a pair of free throws by Gordon. But the Rebels would make one more charge, tying the game at 64-64 with 2;23 left in the game.

The Lobos then close the game out on an 8-3 push, all of UNM's points coming from the free throw line.

Alford praised the large, vocal contingent of UNM fans that at times were as loud as the local UNLV fans.

"Our fans have been tremendous all year," said Alford. "They've traveled well for us. We've been a lot of places this year and they've traveled well. But obviously with this being a league tournament, they get access to more tickets. It was phenomenal."

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