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Monday, December 22, 2014

Men's Basketball: Lobos pull off close victory

assistantsports@dailylobo.com
@JROppenheim

Kendall Williams forced one overtime session Thursday at the Charleston Classic in South Carolina. Alex Kirk forced a second.

Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas ensured there was not a third.

New Mexico’s sophomore point guard drained a 3-pointer late in the second overtime period, lifting the No. 19 Lobos into the second round at the Charleston Classic. A 97-94 victory over Alabama-Birmingham kept UNM in the winner’s bracket.

The Lobos advanced to the second round, where they’ll take on Massachusetts at 12:30 p.m. MST today.

“You can never underestimate the heart of a champion,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said in a story on GoLobos.com, UNM Athletics’ official website. “They (Lobos) never one time in the huddle, never one time during a timeout, wavered from believing they could get it done.”

On two separate occasions UNM avoided the early-season upset. UAB held a 73-69 lead on the Lobos with 11 seconds remaining in overtime after a pair of Rod Rucker free throws. Williams completed traditional 3-point play to cut the deficit to one.

After Rucker drained another two free throws for a 75-72 lead, Williams took off for a desperation jumper that found the basket, tying the game at 75 apiece to force the first overtime.

UNM found itself down by four again late in the overtime session, this time with 1:53 remaining. After a minute of scoreless play, an Alex Kirk jumper left UNM down 86-83. Nick Banyard stole the ball from UAB’s Chad Frazier with 9 seconds left, and Williams found open Kirk on the ensuing possession. Kirk’s triple set up the second overtime session.

The game remained tight through four minutes in the second overtime before Thomas broke the deadlock. With the game tied at 92, his triple with 41 seconds remaining kept UNM in front for the remaining ticks on the clock.

Williams finished as UNM’s leading scorer with 29 points. From the foul line he made nine of his 10 attempts, and he’s only missed two foul shots in the last two games. He was 13 of 14 in Sunday’s win against Charleston Southern.

Cameron Bairstow added 21 points with eight rebounds before fouling out late in regulation, while Kirk posted his third double-double in as many games. He also fouled out as well, but not until he scored 16 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Thomas netted 10 points as well.

UAB placed three in double-digit scoring. Chad Frazier led the way with 34 points, followed by Rucker with 18 and Robert Williams with 15.

Over the game, UNM and UAB exchanged the lead nine times and were tied on 12 different occasions. The Blazers won the battle down low by outscoring the Lobos 36-26 in the paint and outrebounding them 62-58. UNM, though, had the edge in points off turnovers by a 20-8 margin as UAB committed 16 miscues. 

The Lobos held a 35-26 lead at halftime.