LARAMIE (AP) — New Mexico led nearly the entire second half but wound up in overtime on the road against Wyoming. The Lobos maintained their composure, though, and Cleveland Thomas hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the extra period and sank four free throws in the closing moments, allowing New Mexico to escape with a 72-69 win on Wednesday.
Alex Kirk blocked a layup by Riley Grabau with 15 seconds left in the extra period with the Lobos hanging on to a 70-69 lead. Thomas grabbed the rebound, was fouled and sank two free throws with 14.2 seconds to go. Grabau missed a 3-pointer from the right wing at the final buzzer, allowing New Mexico to claim its fourth straight victory.
Cameron Bairstow scored 15 points for New Mexico (11-3, 2-0 Mountain West), while Thomas and Kirk finished with 12 each. Kendall Williams had 10. Kirk had eight rebounds.
Grabau scored a career-high 24 points for Wyoming (9-6, 0-2) while Nathan Sobey added a season-high 16 points and Josh Adams had 12.
The Lobos held several eight-point leads in regulation, but the Cowboys continued to fight back. Williams hit a free throw with 22.3 seconds left in regulation to give New Mexico a 64-62 lead but missed his second. Grabau sank two free throws to tie it with 7.6 seconds left, and Williams tossed up an air ball on a 3-point try at the buzzer, setting up the overtime.
“It was kinda like, alright, let’s do it,” Kirk said of the team’s attitude after failing to seal the deal in regulation. “You can’t really get depressed in those moments. But it was like, come on, we should have finished these guys off 15 minutes ago, but we didn’t. So we came out and we just knew we had to put the pressure on them right away.”
Thomas’s 3-pointer from the left corner put New Mexico up 67-64 with 3:30 left in overtime. Sobey and Adams each missed a pair of free throws before the Lobos’ Cullen Neal sank a free throw and then blew a kiss to the Wyoming student section, resulting in a technical foul. Grabau made two free throws and then Neal missed his second free throw, setting up a wild finish.
Sobey lost the ball on the next possession and Thomas hit two more free throws to make it 70-66 with 1:07 left in OT. Grabau nailed a 3 and Bairstow then missed two foul shots. With Wyoming down by one, Grabau penetrated the left side of the lane but had his shot rejected by Kirk.
Thomas was happy to come through in the clutch, saying he wanted to make up for a lapse on defense.
“It’s hard to win up here,” he said. “The air’s a little thinner and, like, the lights are dim in the gym. A lot of teams will lose here.”
“We just hung in there,” Lobos coach Craig Neal said. “We didn’t make bad mistakes or try to do too much. I thought we played solid basketball in overtime.”
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt admired his team’s effort.
“The overtime seemed like a heavyweight boxing match,” he said. “Both teams were exhausted. We missed some big free throws, but I don’t know if a guy could be prouder. I’m disappointed and frustrated they haven’t had more to show for, against the elite five teams we have played. ”
The Cowboys’ Larry Nance Jr., who had nine points, seven rebounds and a career-high six blocks, said it’s good to know the team can play with the best squads in the conference.
“If we can put it together there in the last closing minutes — because it happened to us in Nevada and it happened here tonight — if we can figure out how to put that together, we’re going to be a scary team.”