Something about the Mountain West tournament brings out the best in New Mexico junior guard Tony Snell.
He helped shoot the Lobos to last season’s tournament title, so it was little surprise Saturday that when New Mexico needed someone to step up, Snell was that player.
Snell scored 13 points in a row for the Lobos down the stretch, taking it upon himself to hold off UNLV 63-56 in the championship game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“The guy who really got away from us today is an NBA player,” Rebels coach Dave Rice said. “There’s no doubt that Tony Snell is going to play in that league for a long time with the things he’s able to do.”
Snell’s long-term NBA future can be debated, but his ability to produce in this tournament is undisputed. Last year, he averaged 13 points and hit nine 3-pointers in three games to make the all-tournament team. In the semifinals against UNLV, he had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. In the final against San Diego State, he scored 14 points.
This year, in the Lobos’ first two tournament games, Snell scored 15 against Wyoming and 17 against San Diego State. He made five 3-pointers against the Aztecs, including three in a 55-second span to expand the lead to 43-22.
“I just have more confidence now,” Snell said. “My teammates always encourage me to keep shooting the ball whenever I miss it.”
Which hasn’t been often, or at least it wasn’t against UNLV. Snell made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 7 3-point attempts, to finish with 21 points. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Snell began his barrage with 8:11 left, making back-to-back 3-pointers, hitting a layup and scoring from the lane as New Mexico expanded a 46-45 lead to 56-47.
Then after UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones hit back-to-back 3s to cut the lead to three, Snell answered with one of his own with 1:05 left to put the Lobos up 59-53.
New Mexico kept running Snell off screens to free him, and it worked.
“They kept trying to stay close on me,” Snell said of UNLV’s defenders. “I tried to stop and give a little bump to give me some space to run off the screens. I tried to cut hard and tried to get open.”
Snell’s performance underscored the overall strength of the Lobos (29-5), who dominated the league by winning the regular-season and tournament titles. Point guard Kendall Williams was the league’s Player of the Year and one of five Lobos named to the all-conference teams or honorable mention.
“We’ll put our starting five up against anybody,” coach Steve Alford said.
Now the Lobos wait to see if they will get a No. 2 seed when the NCAA Tournament field is announced today.
“I think we deserve a two-seed or higher because we definitely proved ourselves all year,” Snell said.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.