LAS VEGAS – It was a game the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team had control of – for a while.
But New Mexico’s defensive pressure, along with a personal 13-0 second-half run by sophomore wing Vance Jackson were too much for UW to overcome in a 78-68 loss in a first-round game at the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championships on Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
UW, the No. 10 seed in the tournament, finished the season 8-24. Seventh-seeded New Mexico (14-17) advances to play No. 2 seed Utah State (25-6) at 7 p.m. today in the semifinals.
“We played some of our best basketball in the first half in terms of defending and rebounding, but in the second half we had some self-inflicted wounds against their pressure,” third-year UW coach Allen Edwards said. “They kind of wore us down, but I loved the fight from our group.”
UW led by as much as 16 points late in the first half, and 13 with 14 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the game after a three-point play by senior guard Justin James.
That’s when Jackson took over as he scored 13 consecutive points during a 22-3 Lobos run over a span of 6:24 that gave New Mexico a 56-50 lead with 8:20 left.
“Our season was on the line. Me and rest of the team didn’t want to lose, and we did what we had to do to get (the victory),” said Jackson on what sparked him to go on this second half run.
Jackson scored 20 of his team-best 26 points during the second half. He also had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.
“I thought with (UW redshirt freshman forward) Hunter Thompson guarding (Jackson), it was a great matchup for him,” New Mexico coach Paul Weir said. “(Jackson) was able to take him off the bounce, and once he started doing that, it opened himself up from 3. He really took advantage of the matchup.”
UW cut the lead to 62-61 with 3:24 to play after a basket by senior forward Jordan Naughton. New Mexico put the game away with a 7-0 run over the next 1:50. Sophomore wing Makuach Maluach had two dunks during the run, and finished with 13 points.
The Cowboys finished with 16 turnovers – nine in the second half. They shot only 38.2 percent from the field (21 of 55), and were 1 of 10 from 3-point range and were out rebounded 26-14 in the second half.
“We lost this one from our defense in the second half,” James said. “All the credit to New Mexico. They followed their game plan and won the game.”
James scored a game-high 31 points, the third time this season he scored 30 or more points in a game. Naughton added 10 points and junior guard Jake Hendricks scored nine on three 3-pointers.
In UW’s 88-81 home victory over New Mexico last Saturday, five different Cowboys scored in double figures.
UW’s largest lead was 16 points late in the first half.
“Wyoming had terrific start to the game. They gave us a tremendous blow early and pushed us to the point of elimination,” Weir said. “Thankfully, we bounced back and finished the game how wanted.”