Friday, March 19, 2010

New Mexico needs big 2nd half to hold off Montana


New Mexico vs. Montana

Box score

— After all of Darington Hobson's big talk about a deep NCAA tournament run for New Mexico, Montana nearly shut up the Lobos right away.

Roman Martinez had 19 points, six rebounds and four assists and third-seeded New Mexico overcame a shaky start to beat 14th-seeded Montana 62-57 in the NCAA tournament's East Regional on Thursday night.

Hobson added 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists while playing with a sprained left wrist for the Lobos, who used a 17-0 run after halftime to briefly break open the game after trailing by a point at the break. Hobson underwent X-rays and his status for the second round is unclear.

"It's killing me right now. It's tournament time, I've been waiting for this moment all my life, so I'm going to play but it hurts," he said before being asked how he would treat it. "Probably just ice them and prayer, but I don't know what we're going to do."

Martinez made three 3-pointers, including one with 7:44 to play, and Dairese Gary converted seven free throws over the final 3:36 on the way to 15 points as New Mexico staved off an upset to continue a special season that began with being picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West Conference.

"This isn't gymnastics. We don't get points for that. This is the way we've been all year. We play hard, we play tough and when we make a lot of shots we look a little prettier," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "We didn't make a lot of shots tonight, but I thought our defense was really good."

The Lobos (30-4) will play Washington on Saturday after the Huskies beat Marquette 80-78 earlier Thursday. New Mexico is trying to win more than one tournament game for the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Hobson already predicted a spot in the regional final for his Lobos, who hadn't been in the tournament since 2005 and hadn't won an NCAA game since 1999. They will have to play better to keep going.

"I don't know if we got tired or what, but we kind of let down a little bit," Gary said of letting Montana back in the game. "We got after it after that."

Montana's Brian Qvale scored 26 points on 12-for-16 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds, carrying the load on a terrible night for leading scorer Anthony Johnson. He was held to six points and missed his first 11 field-goal tries before his only basket on a baseline jumper with 1:41 to play. Johnson missed all four 3-point tries and committed four turnovers.

Not only did Johnson struggle, but the Grizzlies (22-10) couldn't even seize the biggest moment of the game.

After Gary missed two free throws with 22.4 seconds left, Montana trailed by just three points — but Will Cherry inexplicably pushed the ball up and missed an acrobatic layin rather than trying a potential-tying 3-pointer.

Montana certainly had plenty of chances for its second NCAA win in five years.

Now, coach Wayne Tinkle will be free to watch his daughter, Joslyn, make her NCAA tournament debut for Stanford just up the 101 freeway on Saturday.

Tinkle's theme of late has been "don't settle," and his players kept fighting until the final buzzer.

But Johnson's performance was perhaps the biggest shocker of the game. He scored 42 points — 34 in the second half and his team's final 21 — in a thrilling 66-65 comeback win over Weber State in the Big Sky Conference tournament championship game in which the Griz rallied from 22 points down.

He came in with a 19.6 scoring average — and what a change from his spectacular performance eight days earlier.

Gary was a big reason for Johnson's off night.

"I think it's disruptive to a team when your leading scorer goes 1 for 12," Alford said. "Then that makes other people have to increase their role, and increasing roles in this month becomes very difficult."

New Mexico had its 15-game winning streak snapped with a loss to San Diego State in the semifinals of the conference tournament, but still received an at-large berth.

The Lobos were on the verge of blowing this one, unable to put the game away after the big run. New Mexico shot 37.9 percent in the first half and was outrebounded 37-31 overall. The Lobos also shot 5 for 20 from long range and missed 10 free throws.

Hobson landed awkwardly on his wrist in a fall early in the game, but played through it.

The Mountain West Conference player of the year is determined to keep this surprising season alive a little longer — and if he raises his NBA stock in the process, all the better.

The four games Thursday at San Jose's HP Pavilion drew 15,427.


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