By Arnie Leshin
It was a tough way to end a back-and-forth men’s basketball game that had 16 lead changes and 22 ties, but that’s the way it worked out when University of New Mexico paid a call on Nevada and its two former head coaches Monday night.
There they were in a second overtime of what has become a tight Mountain West standings, one in which the Lobos, Wolf Pack, San Diego State, Boise State and Utah State are making a run.
To break it down, UNM appeared to get the stop it needed with 24 seconds remaining in OT two and with a 94-all deadlock. It came after Wolf Pack red-shirt freshman Nick Davidson missed a floated that bounced off the backboard and in the hands of Lobos’ senior Morris Udeze, who was quickly surrounded by Davidson and junior teammate Daniel Foster.
With the 6-foot-8 Udeze hugging the ball, the Wolf Pack pair, 6-8 Davidson and 6-6 Foster were reaching for it and appeared to make contact, and with that Udeze let loose with a daring left hand to Foster’s head and followed with a hurried push that sent Foster crashing to the ground.
Play continued and the officials decided it was UNM’s ball with
16.3 left, and so its head coach Richard Pitino began to call his players together, and at the same time the officials wanted to see the replay of what occurred and headed to the table.
About 10 minutes later as Pitino wasn’t sure of what was going on, the officials informed him that it was a flagrant foul against Udeze, that it was a technical and Nevada was awarded free throws and the ball. With that, Pitino flipped, had to be restrained by his assistant coaches, and to the charity stripe stepped Foster.
He bounced the first off the front of the rim, but made the next two and it was now 96-94. Then 7-foot redshirt-junior Will Baker was fouled near midcourt and made one of two bonus attempts
to increase it to 97-94.
With time now allowing for a 3 for another, the Lobos had run out of time outs and 6-foot junior Jaelen House came down court and worked for a final shot that didn’t make it as the clocked ticked down and the home crowd stormed the court at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
But here’s what puzzled Pitino the most. No foul calls, play went on with his side in possession, and just like that, it backfired. Obviously the officials were going to make a delayed call and putting the ball in the hands of the Wolf Pack to decide the game.
It also brought a seventh straight victory for Nevada head coach Steve Alford and assistant Craig Neal over UNM since first Alford was its head coach and then assistant Neal took over when Alford signed to coach at UCLA.
It also put the Wolf Pack at 16-5 overall and 6-2 in the Mountain West as the Lobos dropped to 18-3 and 5-3. How close is it, well San Diego State holds onto the top spot at 6-1, and is 15-4 overall, Utah State is 16-4 and 5-2, and Boise State is 15-5 and 5-2.
It was also a tough setback for Pitino’s team after it landed at No. 25 in Monday’s Poll.
But for Nevada, it was a contest that looked to be over when it trailed 87-82 on Udeze’s layup with 1:13 to go. But UNM turned the ball over on its next two possessions, with House getting a 5-second call while on out of bounds and then losing the ball off his legs on a driving layup.
That brought freshman Darrion Williams’ 3-pointer and a jumper from senior Kenan Blackshear jumper. New Mexico junior Jamal Mashburn then turned the ball over on a poor pass, Wolf Pack senior Jarod Lucas missed a 3 and the hard-fought game went into a second overtime.
Then Udeze and Williams traded layups before two free throws by Lucas put his team ahead 91-89 with 2:58remaining. Udeze’s foul shot put the visitors within a point, Lucas converted two more freebies, Udeze added two more and it was 93-92 for Alford’s team with the clock at 1:05.
Next, Baker, who had a career-high 28 points, dropped in one-of-two charity shots, House hit two freebies to knot the score at 94-94 with 44 seconds showing, Foster’s free throw made it 95-94 before Baker sank both of his foul shots.
“It is what it is,” said Pitino, “It’s a break that didn’t go our way.”
Nevada, with the size advantage, powered its way underneath early but UNM had more rebounds, 35-29. The Lobos were 34-for-63 from the field and 18-for-25 from the line, while the Wolf Pack was 36-for-75 and 20-for-26. It had 23 assists to UNM’s 17.
Blackshear and Williams fouled out for the home team and Masburn had four for the Lobos. Masburn also turned in 33 points. Lucas scored 22 for Nevada, two more than Blackshear. The Wolf Pack led after one half, 43-38, and it was 78-all after regulation.
Then came the long delayed call by the officials that changed the outcome.
The Wolf Pack played before its largest turnout, 8,238, since playing host to Southern California in 2019.