LAS VEGAS — The University of New Mexico men's basketball team kept its postseason hopes alive by jumping out to a huge first-half lead over Wyoming in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals and keeping the Cowboys at bay the rest of the way.
New Mexico wasted little time getting out of the gates in the second round matchup. Senior guard Antino Jackson collected the first two points of the game by finishing on a drive to the basket.
After a Wyoming turnover and UNM offensive rebound, fellow senior Joe Furstinger was true on a jumper to put the Lobos up 4-0 in the early going.
That trend continued as Wyoming struggled to make shots, missing its first three attempts from the field. The Cowboys were forced to call a timeout with 16:29 still remaining in the first half, already trailing 10-1.
New Mexico continued to build on the lead thanks to its ability to capitalize of Wyoming's mistakes as the Lobos scored eight points on four turnovers. The margin grew to 22-9 — prompting another timeout at the 11:23 mark — but the Cowboys finally started settling in.
Sam Logwood drives against Wyoming during the first half of Thursday's game at Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Lobos won 85-75.
Wyoming slowly started chipping away at the deficit and got a big boost when it notched three consecutive 3-point plays to make a run. Cody Kelly tickled the twine with another deep ball moments later to draw the Cowboys within 30-28 with 4:34 remaining in the half.
The teams essentially traded baskets for the remainder of the half. Lobo junior guard Chris McNeal had a good look after collecting a steal in the final two seconds, but his buzzer-beater rattled out. But New Mexico still went into halftime, protecting a 39-35 lead.
Head Coach Paul Weir said it did feel like the Lobos were playing on defense for the rest of the game after giving up the big lead, but he would much rather be in that position than having to play from behind.
In the second half, Wyoming continued to make runs, but could never quite "get over the hump" as Cowboy head coach Allen Edwards put it.
Cody Kelley nailed a 3-pointer to start things off for Wyoming in the second half, cutting the deficit to one. But UNM's Troy Simons answered with one of his own at the other end as the Lobos seemed to have a response anything the Cowboys threatened.
Furstinger appeared to leave everything out on the court in what could have been his final game as a Lobo. He poured in 15 second-half points to tally a career high 23 for the game, and also collected nine rebounds and two blocks along the way.
The senior forward said he simply didn't want his season to end and was finally able to notch his first win in the Mountain West Tournament during his career as a Lobo.
After New Mexico pushed the lead back to nine points on multiple occasions in the second half, Wyoming mounted a mini-run to pull back within 58-54 with 11:50 left in the game.
But freshman Makuach Maluach scored on a jumper and Furstinger continued to cause problems in the lane, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws to put UNM back up by eight.
The game continued to be a see-saw affair as New Mexico and Wyoming continued to trade runs. The Cowboys stayed hot from the outside, hitting five second-half 3-pointers to keep within striking distance.
In a bit of a role reversal, UNM was actually outperformed in the long-range shooting category. Wyoming made nine 3-pointers for the game, while New Mexico went 7-of-17 from deep — snapping a streak of 12 games in which the Lobos had made 10 or more shots fro beyond the arc.
Failing to hit that goal has usually spelled trouble for New Mexico, as the Lobos had only pulled out a victory in one game all season long in which it made nine or fewer shots from long range prior to Thursday.
But the Lobos had a monster game rebounding the basketball, winning the battle on the boards by a 38-27 margin. The second-chance opportunities were plentiful as UNM scored 13 points off 13 offensive rebounds.
New Mexico also held a 12-3 advantage in points scored off turnovers — though most of that damage came in the first half.
Wyoming had perhaps its best chance of getting back into the game when Hayden Dalton made a bucket to make the score 74-71 and immediately forced a turnover.
The Cowboys missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer, the front end of a one-and-one and a layup over the next three possessions as the score remained the same.
And as the clock began to work against Wyoming, the Cowboys failed to execute down the stretch and the Lobos were able to close the door by knocking down their free throws and earn an 85-75 victory.
With the win, No. 3 seed New Mexico advanced to the semifinals, where it will battle No. 7 seed Utah State for the right to play in the championship game. Those two schools will square off against each other on Friday at 8:30 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.