Thirty minutes through the contest, Nevada had managed more than to just stay within reach of the No. 11 Lobos, holding a 55-53 edge with 10:18 on the clock. From there, it was all New Mexico as the Mountain West champions ran away to a 75-62 victory Wednesday night.
After Nevada pushed its lead to 56-55 with just over eight minutes to play, the Lobos went to work inside and dominated the Pack. Over the next five minutes, Nevada’s defense wilted under New Mexico’s big men as the Lobos ripped off a 17-0 run to jump ahead 72-56, essentially sealing the win with 3:12 on the clock. Eight of the 17 unanswered points came in the key. Another five points during the spurt came on free throws that resulted from fouls in the paint.
“I thought they were getting the ball too deep,” Nevada coach David Carter said of the Lobos’ inside game. “We didn’t have time to rotate or get a double team and double the post.
“When you get it right underneath the basket so close where you can go straight up, there’s not enough time to change. They went to our weakness, which was inside. A couple times post guys tried to front when they weren’t supposed to and didn’t get around so they got easy baskets. I think that was the turning point, 30 points inside the paint.”
While the Wolf Pack (12-17, 3-12 MWC) could not stop New Mexico (26-4, 13-2) on the defensive side of the ball, Carter said Nevada didn’t help itself on offense during the stretch either.
“It was just empty possessions,” he said. “I thought we had good looks. I think we even had a couple of good looks from the outside in transition. They’re a very good team. If you don’t make them pay, the margin for error is so small. You let them pull away to six, seven, that is a big lead for them because they know how to play with the lead.”
Before New Mexico’s 17-0 run shut the door on any thought of a Wolf Pack upset, Nevada had stayed with the Lobos stride for stride.
The teams worked their way to a 10-10 tie six minutes into the contest before New Mexico distanced itself to a 19-14 lead with 10:21 left in the first half. The Pack then rallied back with 10 straight points to grab a 24-19 lead at the 7:16 mark before New Mexico closed the first half with 17 of the final 25 points to seize a 36-32 edge at halftime.
The Lobos pushed that advantage to 44-37 in the first three minutes of the second half, but a 13-3 Nevada burst handed the lead back to the Pack, 50-47, at the 12:19 mark. A putback by Cole Huff and a corner trey by Malik Story then extended the Wolf Pack to its 55-53 lead.
The loss dropped the Pack to 2-6 at home within Mountain West play. Carter said a large reason for the poor home record is the Wolf Pack’s performance on the glass.
“Rebounding is the front line. You can’t make runs if you can’t get stops,” he said. “There’s no such thing as stops after made baskets. When you get stops, it puts more pressure on their defense so maybe you could get more break downs when you run your sets. But when they’re scoring and their defense is set, it’s hard to score against a good, solid defense every single time. So you have to get stops because your defense has to create offense for you. We haven’t done that this year and it goes to rebounding.”
Story was the only Wolf Pack player to finish with double digits in scoring, finishing his senior night with 25 points. Guard Deonte Burton added eight points and eight assists while forward Kevin Panzer tallied nine points.
Nevada will now travel to face Colorado State on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. And although the Pack is in the midst of a six-game losing streak, Burton said there is still plenty to gain in the regular season finale.
“We’re always going to stay confident in each other,” Burton said. “Regardless of how we play right now, going into the conference tournament we’re going to try to build momentum regardless. We have to count on one another to do that. There are some tough games that we lost, but we have to stay together, keep our heads up, and get ready for Colorado State.”