Lobos edge past UNLV

UNLV’s Jordan Johnson, left, is defended by New Mexico’s Antino Jackson during Sunday’s game in Albuquerque. The Lobos beat the Runnin’ Rebels 91-90. Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP

ALBUQUERQUE — There’s not a name for it. Not yet, anyway.

Lobo Lap, maybe?

Whatever it’s called, Paul Weir seems to enjoy it.

The University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach needed an extra 10 minutes to get back to the locker room following Sunday’s matinee thriller against UNLV. The Lobos scored their latest remarkable victory in what has become a season unlike any other in program history.

They got a go-ahead 3-pointer from freshman Makuach Maluach in the final 20 seconds, then withstood three potential game-winning tries from the Runnin’ Rebels in the last 5 seconds for a 91-90 win in front of 12,080 fans in The Pit.

It vaults UNM into a tie for third place in the Mountain West with the regular season coming to a close next weekend. That’s when Fresno State — the other team in third — comes to The Pit to settle the race.

The fans showed their appreciation for this latest win by making The Pit feel like it did years ago when NCAA Tournament runs and top-25 appearances were the norm. Now one game over .500 for the first time since mid-November, the Lobos (15-14 overall, 10-6 in the MWC) are riding as high as they ever have under the first-year coach and Sunday’s atmosphere reflected that.

It’s a big reason the players jogged single file around the floor to high-five fans, followed by the red-sweatered Weir.

He stopped to shake hands, pose for pictures, sign an autograph or two and run up the steps to kiss his wife and wave to anyone and everyone willing to show their love.

“I just told the guys, we’re not supposed to be doing this,” Weir said. “That’s just the reality of it. What we’re doing right now with these guys, they’re a great team to coach, they’ve really bought in, they make the values that people don’t think exist anymore — they make them still exist. The value of work ethic, of mental toughness, of togetherness, of unselfishness. That can overcome whatever those other things may be; the charter flights, the budgets, the whatever what we’re going up against, we just have to go out and give it everything we’ve got.”

It all came down to the final minute. Despite getting called for 29 personal fouls that sent UNLV (19-10, 8-8) to the free throw line a staggering 40 times, the Lobos closed things out when point guard Antino Jackson drove against Jordan Johnson from the right wing and momentarily lost control of his dribble. It got the Rebels’ Shakur Juiston to step toward the baseline to double team against a Jackson layup, but it allowed Maluach to drift behind the 3-point line.

Jackson found him and the freshman’s shot arced high over a flat-footed Juiston for the go-ahead bucket with 17.5 seconds left.

“Obviously it was ’Kuach today,” said UNM guard Anthony Mathis. “That just shows so much about our team. Everybody’s so confident in the last couple minutes taking a clean shot and doing our best to knock it down.”

Setting up for the final possession after at timeout, UNLV got three tries before time expired. Johnson — who had 25 points and nine assists — drove the lane in the final five seconds and flung a chest pass to a wide open Kris Clyburn at the 3-point line. Clyburn’s shot missed but skying for the rebound in the lane was Jovan Mooring. His follow appeared to be deflected by Sam Logwood, but there for a last-second tip was Brandon McCoy.

The 7-footer sent the ball just over the from of the rim. It bounced lightly off the far side, then grazed the other half before falling off to end the game.

“The last shot, I was just sitting there with Joe [Furstinger] and we just grabbed each other,” Mathis said. “I swear that shot was in the air for like five seconds and I think I ran on the court a little too early because I was at halfcourt and the buzzer had just gone off. Hopefully they didn’t see that.”

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Mathis was his usual steady self, scoring a team-high 18 points and hitting all seven of his free throw attempts. Logwood had another brilliant game, going for 17 points and 10 rebounds while giving up four inches to the large and lanky McCoy.

“I’m giving it everything I’ve got, like I’ve got just a couple games left in college,” Logwood said. “I just don’t want to go out and regret not playing as hard as I could have. Things are working out well for me. I’m just going to keep trying to push myself past my limits and give the rest of the team what it needs heading into the tournament.”

UNM has been called for 61 personal fouls in the last two games, both wild victories that seem to defy logic for a team that was picked ninth in the preseason MWC poll and seemingly overmatched in almost every game they play.

“You guys see our roster,” Logwood said. “We were picked ninth. All we can do is go out and play as hard as we can and if we win, then thank god. If we lose, we can say we gave everything that we had at the end of the day.”

The Lobos completed a regular season sweep of UNLV and they enter their final two games knowing they control their own fate for finishing third. Doing so would not only give them a bye through the first round of the MWC Tournament but it would put them into the quarterfinals against a team that must play its way out of the opening round the day before.

For a team that predicates itself on running teams ragged, that’s perhaps the greatest advantage the Lobos can hope for. Weir knows it, as to the players and, apparently, the fans.

“We’ve been kind of building towards this the last month or so, just playing better basketball,” Weir said. “Hopefully the fans are appreciating us more, about who we are and what we’re tying to do. We don’t have 7-foot NBA players. We don’t have those things. We just have each other and a team that just works their tails off and I’m glad that these young men are getting to see that that still counts for something and that you can still win games that way.”

GAME NOTES

The Lobos head to Colorado State on Wednesday for their final regular season road game. The Rams (11-19, 4-13) held tough against No. 20 Nevada on Sunday before losing their third straight and nailing down the 10-seed in the MWC Tournament. … Furstinger fouled out of Sunday’s game with 13 points and two blocked shots. He got his fifth foul with 3:48 remaining. The call was originally ruled a charge on UNLV’s McCoy, but a video review reversed it. Weir said the referees were allowed to do that since they were heading into a media timeout. … The Lobos had 11 3-pointers and had five players (Mathis, Logwood, Furstinger, Maluach and Dane Kuiper) all reach double figures. … Point guards Chris McNeal and Jackson struggled from start to finish. Jackson had six points and five assists but turned it over twice and dealt with foul trouble all game. McNeal made just one shot, had four points and two turnovers in 23 minutes. … Sunday’s crowd was just the third to go over 12,000 this season.

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