SAN JOSE, Calif. — 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 break open the game briefly 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 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. 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.
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 lay-in rather than trying a potential-tying 3-pointer.