Words that, when paired together, can elicit a wide array of emotions — from a feeling of nostalgia to a burning desire to put a punctuation mark on one's time at college, and University of New Mexico men's basketball senior guard Dane Kuiper was able to put a stamp on his final regular home game, sending he and fellow senior teammate Anthony Mathis off with a 73-72 victory over the visiting Boise State Broncos.
New Mexico (13-16, 7-10 MW) and Boise State traded shots in the early going — swapping 3-pointers and leads before winding up tied at 8-8 through about four and half minutes of play.
Boise State broke the tie with a David Wacker layup, but UNM methodically started to build a lead through good ball movement and shot selection.
Kuiper and Keith McGee both connected on long-range attempts and Corey Manigualt got warmed up in the paint. Junior forward Carlton Bragg chipped in a layup as well to cap a 10-2 run and seize an 20-12 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining in the half.
UNM led by as many as 13 in the first half, and took a 41-29 advantage into the locker room at the break. Head coach Paul Weir had to tinker with the lineup in the opening stages of the game and recalled telling his squad that Boise State was a good team and one that would not just roll over.
The Broncos didn't and started chipping away at the Lobo lead, forcing Weir to find the right mix of energy and effort again to start the second half.
Justinian Jessup had 10 first-half points for the Broncos and continued to find his shot throughout the game. He and Derrick Alston both ended up with 23 points on the night, but the Lobos managed to hold things together for the stretch run.
BSU's Pat Dembley tied the game at 53-53 with a layup just past the midway point of the second half, but Kuiper answered with a 3-pointer to put the Lobos back on top.
He said he'd been trying to find his legs and get his shot back underneath him and felt like it finally came back Wednesday night after knocking down a pair of important triples.
The game was tied on several occasions over the subsequent minutes, with neither team being able to string together a run.
Bragg gave UNM a 72-70 lead with a little more than two minutes on the clock, but Jessup nailed a big 3-pointer to put Boise State on top moments later.
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UNM sophomore Makuach Maluach didn't let that stand for long, as he rose up with a defender in his face and willed in a 3-point basket of his own with 1:27 remaining in the game.
That would prove to be the game winner.
In the past, New Mexico would likely have found a way to lose a contest in which it didn't score over the final 90 seconds or so — especially one in which the team failed to cash in at the free throw line. The Lobos missed a pair of them in the final 10 seconds.
But prior to that, UNM played strong defense and forced Boise State into some difficult shots. The Lobos also crashed the glass and got a second possession thanks to a big offensive rebound from Bragg, and another offensive team rebound.
That forced Boise State into a position where it had to foul to extend the game. And after UNM obliged with the two missed free throws, the Broncos had a chance to hold for a potential game-winning shot.
It was a shot BSU never even got to attempt.
Kuiper saw an opportunity to take a swipe at the ball and made a "senior" type of play that was fitting for the night. He tracked down the loose ball and prevented it from going out of bounds — recording a steal and allowing the final seconds to tick off the clock to preserve the 73-72 win.
Mathis credited Kuiper as being one of, if not the best, defender he has come across in his playing days and sounded as though he almost expected that type of play to be in the cards.
The two seniors were honored after the game, thanking fans and taking one last jog up the ramp after receiving individual and collective ovations from the crowd.
Kuiper ended his speech by saying he was "a Lobo for life." If this team were to make any noise in the Mountain West Tournament and get an improbably postseason berth, some may look back on that play as a turning point and remember it for a really long time.
Four Lobos wound up in double digits, with Manigault posting a team-high 19 points. UNM out rebounded the Broncos by a count of 35-29, including doubling them up on the offensive glass.
The Lobos will wrap up the regular season on the road with a trip to Wyoming prior to heading out to Vegas for the MW Championships.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.