The University of New Mexico’s visit to the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands turned into a dream come true Sunday night against George Mason.
Trailing for all but the final two seconds of the tournament’s semifinal matchup, New Mexico (3-0) escaped with a dramatic 70-69 win over the Patriots (2-2) thanks to a pair of 3-pointers in the final 12.4 seconds.
Tony Snell’s trey with 1.8 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner.
Down 69-64 with under 20 seconds remaining, Kendall Williams dribbled across midcourt and drained a 30-foot jumper with 12.4 seconds left. After a timeout, he stole the ensuing inbounds pass, penetrated the perimeter and fed freshman Cleveland Thomas in the far corner. Thomas dribbled along the baseline and passed through a triple team to a wide-open Snell for the final shot.
“It was very similar to Davidson,” said Steve Alford, UNM head coach. “I’m just really proud of the fight our guys have because we’re not playing really well.”
The Lobos will take on nationally ranked Connecticut in Monday night’s championship game. The 23rd-ranked Huskies (4-0) struggled past Quinnipiac 89-83 in double overtime in Sunday’s other semifinal.
Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game can be seen live on the CBS Sports Network, which is available on several local cable and satellite providers. It will also be broadcast on local radio stations KVSF-AM (1400) and KKOB-AM (770).
Sunday’s final play was aided by Snell’s pressure on the inbounds pass. Williams was there to intercept the ball near the 3-point line, then dribble through traffic to set up the dramatic ending. Thomas fed Snell, whose shot sailed away before George Mason’s Patrick Holloway could get off the floor to defend it.
“I honestly think we had a good chance because they had a short point guard taking it out,” Snell said.
Snell had a career-high 27 points, including a 4-for-6 shooting night from beyond the arc. Eighteen of his points came in the second half. He also hit all seven of his free throws as the Lobos overcame a dreadful start to the second half to get the win.
The game was tied at 28 at halftime, but UNM started the second half by missing nine of its first 10 shots. George Mason broke the tie early on and held the lead until Snell’s last shot. The Patriots’ largest lead was eight with 11 minutes left.
George Mason appeared to have the game well in hand after guard Sherrod Wright converted a rare four-point play with 53 seconds left to open a 67-62 lead. Wright had 22 points to lead the Patriots.
The Lobos had nine 3-pointers in the game, six of them coming in the second half. Williams had 14 points and Cameron Bairstow came off the bench to score 10.
Alex Kirk had 8 points in making his second straight start at center. His first 3-pointer of the season capped a 6-0 run late in the second half that got UNM within 61-60. He also had a game-high nine rebounds.
Williams said he figured his desperation 30-foot bomb was just that — a desperation heave.
“A shot like that, you know is not going be contested,” he said, adding that his experience in such situations has given him the confidence to pull the trigger when desperate times call for equally desperate measures.
New Mexico and UConn have met only once before, during the 1999 NCAA Tournament’s second round in Denver. The Huskies won 78-56 en route to their first of three national championships.
Caroline Durbin led four Lobos in double figures with 20 points as UNM improved to 3-0 with a 63-46 win over Houston Baptist on Sunday afternoon before 6,052 fans in The Pit. It took New Mexico eight games to pick up its third win a year ago.
Durbin hit three 3-pointers and pulled down a team-high (and career best) 10 rebounds, helping the Lobos overcome a four-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Huskies 37-16 in the second half. Thirteen turnovers in the first half contributed to the slow start for UNM.
Starters Bryce Owens and Sara Halasz each had 11 points, as did Albuquerque native Deeva Vaughn in a reserve role. Halasz and Vaughn each had eight rebounds as the Lobos enjoyed a44-31 advantage on the glass.
Houston Baptist (1-3) converted only 6 of 21 shots in the seconds half and had just one point in the first 11:36 after halftime as a 13-1 Lobos run turned the game around.
UNM will get a visit from New Mexico State on Tuesday, then take on North Texas in the opener of the Lobos’ Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday in The Pit. The championship game will come Saturday against either St. Bonaventure or Georgia.
The Lobos advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 win over visiting Virginia on Sunday night at the UNM Soccer Stadium. They’ll travel to Storrs, Conn., next Sunday to face Connecticut.
The 13th seed, New Mexico (17-3-1) broke a scoreless tie in the 5th minute when Kyle Venter gave UNM a 1-0 lead. The Cavaliers would tie it just two minutes into the second half, but the Lobos’ James Rogers found the back of the net in the 57th minute to put UNM up 2-1.
Michael Calderon added the finishing touch with a goal in the 89th minute.