RENO, Nev. – New Mexico reminds Nevada coach David Carter of the old Wolf Pack teams that used to run away from opponents at the end of games with the likes of Nick Fazekas, Ramon Sessions and JaVale McGee.
Carter's current squad had the 12th-ranked Lobos on the ropes and led 55-53 midway through the second half before the Mountain West Conference champs kicked into another gear and scored 17 straight points during a 19-1 run en route to their sixth straight victory, 75-62.
"It's like I told the guys, we were there last year," Carter said. "We'd hang around and pull away at the end. That's the sign of a champion."
New Mexico coach Steve Alford didn't know what to expect from his team given they had already clinched their fourth regular season league title in five years and were playing the last-place team. But Tony Snell scored 25 points with a hot hand from the outside and the Lobos' defense rose to the occasion to improve to 8-3 on the road.
"I was concerned just on what our effort, what our demeanor, what our concentration and focus would be," Alford said.
"And that's what I told them in the locker room how pleased and how proud of them I was. They came out focused. They concentrated all night. We gave great effort all night. We did what we've done all year, we just eventually wore a team down in the last 8 minutes. You could tell we were a lot stronger in the last 8 minutes," he said.
Snell made 8 of 11 from the field (3 of 6 from long range) and Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk added double-doubles for the Lobos (26-4, 13-2), who trailed 55-53 before outscoring Nevada 19-1 during a 7-minute stretch late in the game. Kendall Williams added 10 points and five assists for New Mexico.
Malik Story scored 25 points for the Wolf Pack (12-17, 3-12), who have lost six straight and nine of 10. They were outrebounded 33-28 and outshot from the field on the game, 50 percent to 41 percent.
"We fought hard but they are at the top of the league for a reason," said Story, who was 7 of 15 from the field and 6 on 11 on 3s.
Snell scored his team's last 10 points of the first half and had eight during the late run for the Lobos, who are 13-0 in league play when they commit fewer turnovers than their opponent. They had six to Nevada's 11.
"Tony, his game is going to another level," Alford said. "Not only is he being aggressive offensively, but we switched him to (Malik) Story with about 10 minutes to go in the game and that might have been the difference. We've been saying all along that his development on defense has been terrific, and he did it again tonight."
Trailing 56-55, Bairstow scored twice inside to spark the 17-0 run. Snell nailed a 20-footer and a 3-pointer during that stretch before converting a three-point play to cap the run with New Mexico leading 72-56 with 3:12 left in the game.
Keyed by 3-pointers from Story and Kevin Panzer, Nevada went on a 12-2 run to take a 24-19 lead 7 minutes before the half. But Hugh Greenwood followed Chad Adams' 3-pointer with a steal and a layup and Snell went on his 10-point streak over the last 3 minutes of the half for the Lobos' 36-32 lead.
Nevada went on a 9-0 run to take a 50-47 lead when Story stole a pass and pulled up for a 3-pointer with 12:18 remaining. His 3-pointer with 10:15 left put Nevada up 55-53 but the Wolf Pack were outscored 19-1 over the next 7 minutes as the Lobos put the game away.
New Mexico held Nevada's star point guard Deonte Burton to 8 points, half his average. Panzer and Cole Huff each had 9 points for the Wolf Pack. Story only scored 2 points after Alford assigned Snell to cover him midway through the final half.
"Our defense wasn't that good," Snell said. "We wanted to pick it up because we knew we could do better than that."
Bairstow said the Lobos' experience has helped them late in games all season.
"Guys have been through it before," he said. "It's just been a trend the entire year, closing it out in the last couple of minutes. We don't panic when we're in that situation. They went up on us in the second half. We didn't panic. We just stayed in our offense, kept playing defense and really locked down in the end."