One overtime game between New Mexico and Wyoming weren’t enough. They needed a second in their return game Wednesday night at The Pit.
The Lobos finished the extra session with a 7-3 rally, scoring completely off free throws over that stretch, to outlast Wyoming 66-61 for the second time this season.
In their previous meeting on Jan. 8 in Laramie, Wyo., UNM captured a 72-69 win over the Cowboys. Improving to 3-0 in overtime this season, the Lobos also dropped Alabama-Birmingham in overtime in November.
Neither UNM nor Wyoming grabbed a significant advantage throughout the game. Over the 40 minutes of regulation play, the largest lead either team held was four points. The teams settled into a 57-all tie that forced overtime.
These teams have about as close a series record as anybody else in the Mountain West. Wednesday’s win gives UNM a 66-64 all-time series lead over Wyoming.
“I don’t know. It’s just a weird matchup for us,” head coach Craig Neal said. “It’s been like that for as long as I’ve been here. We’ve just been fortunate to come out ahead in a lot of them and just proud of my guys the way they hung in there.”
Lobo forward Cameron Bairstow struck first with a field goal in the first 15 seconds, but Wyoming forward Larry Nance Jr. responded with a pair of free throws. Guard Kendall Williams and Bairstow then hit their own free throws for a 63-59 lead with 2:35 remaining.
After two minutes of scoreless basketball, Charles Hankerson Jr.’s 3-pointer brought Wyoming back to 63-61, but Williams closed out the game with three more free throws over the final 20 seconds.
Both UNM big men, center Alex Kirk and Bairstow, posted double-doubles. Bairstow led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Kirk chipped in 15 points and 10 rebounds. UNM also beat Wyoming on the boards by a 42-22 margin.
Williams joined UNM’s frontcourt starters in double-digit scoring with 13 points, though he missed 11 field goal attempts. His production came primarily from the foul line, connecting on nine free throws in 12 attempts
UNM struggled with mistakes and poor shooting through the first half, mustering a 28-27 lead before the break. The Lobos committed eight turnovers in the half, made only one 3-point shot in six tries, and were outscored in the paint by an eight-point margin.
Wyoming didn’t fare much better over the first 20 minutes and although both squads exchanged the lead 13 times, neither team led by more than three points. The Cowboys have five turnovers of their own, were out-rebounded by a 22-9 margin and had no second-chance points.
The game remains just as close in the second half with teams exchanging five- to six-point runs mixed in with bucket-for-bucket scoring. UNM’s turnover count dropped to four in the second half, 13 for the game.
UNM has only given up two second-chance points in its last 88 minutes of action.
Wyoming placed four in double digits, led by Grabau’s 12. Nance Jr., Hankerson Jr. and guard Nathan Sobey each had 10 points.
The Lobos had difficulty shooting the long ball with only one triple from guard Cullen Neal. The team tried 10 shots from beyond the arc. UNM finished 42.6 percent from the field (23 of 54). The team had a 73.1 percent shooting clip from the foul line (19 of 26) and did not miss a second-half free throw.
Wyoming was 44.4 percent from the field (24 of 54), 36.8 percent from the 3-point line (7 of 19) and 6 of 9 from the foul line (6 of 9).