The 2016-17 season for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team came to an unceremonious end on Thursday afternoon with a 65-60 loss in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
With the loss, the Lobos have now lost the opening round tournament game in three straight seasons after winning the tournament in three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014.
Junior guard Elijah Brown scored a team-high 16 points on 6 of 21 shooting from the floor, while Tim Williams added 15 points and six rebounds.
“I’m proud of our kids,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said after the game. “I’ve had a great time coaching them, a fun time coaching them. We’ve had some ups, we’ve had some downs. We had a lot of fun. We had some adversity. But these two guys next to me (Brown and Williams) had a heck of years, and our team had a good year. I was proud of the way they competed today.”
Brown and Williams kept the Lobos close in what turned out to be a back and forth game with 11 lead changes and five ties.
Fresno State went into the half time break with a one-point lead after Deshaun Taylor nailed a three-point basket with three seconds on the clock. The two teams would exchange baskets throughout the second period of action.
The Lobos took a 54-53 lead on a layup by Dane Kuiper with 3:34 left on the clock, but Taylor would respond with a clutch three-point shot on the next possession, giving the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish over the final three minutes of play.
“I thought you saw two really good teams play a hard-fought game,” said Neal. “They hit some tough shots. I think the biggest thing is they have two guys that can shoot the ball really well.”
Taylor led all scorers with 21 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the floor, including three big baskets from behind the arc. The Bulldogs did not shoot particularly well from the floor as a team (36.8%) but more than made up for it by making 15 of 18 free-throw attempts.
Although the Lobos owned a plus-four advantage in free throw attempts, they converted only 54.5% of them as a team.
“We didn’t shoot free throws like we’ve been shooting all year,” Neal said. “We missed ten. And that includes three front ends, would have given us three more. So it’s just one of those things.”
The Bulldogs will now take on No. 1 seed and regular season champion Nevada, while the Lobos will head home early to start building a new program for the 2017-18 season.