ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – No. 15 New Mexico let almost all of a 22-point lead slip away until Tony Snell scored four points over the closing minutes to help the Lobos preserve a 66-61 victory over Colorado State on Wednesday night.
The win gave first-place New Mexico (17-2, 4-0 MWC) a two-game lead in the Mountain West Conference.
Afterward, Lobos coach Steve Alford was all smiles despite watching his team nearly fritter away the large lead.
"I'm extremely pleased with our basketball team," he said. "We're pretty good. We're a pretty good basketball team and I think we're getting better because we beat a really good basketball team."
The Lobos led 54-32 with 12:26 left before the Rams (15-4, 2-2) began a comeback behind Dorian Green.
Green scored 11 points in a 20-5 Colorado State run that cut the gap to 59-52 with 4 minutes left.
With 8.2 seconds remaining, Wes Eikmeier's 3-pointer made it 64-61, but Snell made two free throws to preserve the victory.
"We lost some concentration for a 6- or 7-minute frame," Alford said. "But then we did the things that we needed to do down the stretch. Whether it was make free throws, get stops, we did the things we had to do to get the win."
Snell, who finished with 23 points, scored six points in a 10-0 run that turned a 27-25 lead with 4 minutes left in the first half into a 37-25 lead early in the second half.
And New Mexico later used a 9-0 run over a 1:30 span of the second half to build its largest lead that prefaced the Rams' rally.
Eikmeier led Colorado State with 20 points and Green finished with 14, while Colton Iverson had 15 points and 14 rebounds. Iverson almost had a double-double in the first half with nine points and nine boards.
Chad Adams matched his career high with 13 points for the Lobos.
The Rams came into the game as the country's top rebounding team and they controlled the glass with a 42-28 advantage, including 15-7 on the offensive end. New Mexico was 21 of 26 from the free throw line while Colorado State went 13 of 23.
"They are a very gritty group," Alford said of the Rams. "They fight you. They do a great job defensively of making it hard on you. And it is, without question the most relentless rebounding team we have faced all year. They attack the glass on free throws. It's almost as if they're trying to rebound balls on timeouts."
Although his Rams won the battle of the glass, coach Larry Eustachy said his team needed to be more physical.
"We just got out-toughed. And that's the culture we're still trying to change here," he said, later adding, "We spotted them too much and they were too tough for too long. It's that simple."