ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – At the moment Kendall Williams should have been running back on defense, he was spotting up for a 3-point shot that added another chapter to UNLV’s book of road woes.
In possession of the lead and the ball with just over two minutes to go, the Rebels let another one slip away Wednesday night.
"We had our opportunities to win," senior guard Anthony Marshall said, "and we just came up short."
Williams was on target at the right time, sinking the go-ahead 3 that put 25th-ranked New Mexico over the top in a 65-60 victory over No. 24 UNLV in the teams’ Mountain West opener at The Pit.
Seven-foot sophomore Alex Kirk scored 23 points, and Williams’ shot with 2:11 remaining keyed the Lobos (14-2) in crunch time. Marshall collided with a teammate on a defensive rebound and lost the ball out of bounds, and Williams took advantage of the opportunity.
Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch each scored 12 points for the Rebels, who dropped to 13-3 with their sixth loss in their past eight conference road games dating to last season.
"It’s frustrating because we know we can play better," Marshall said. "You’ve got to be tougher to win on the road."
Seven NBA scouts were in the crowd of 15,411, and presumably Bennett was the player they came to see. But the freshman forward started slowly, got sidelined by foul trouble and was overshadowed by another big man.
Kirk hit 7 of 13 shots, including two 3-pointers, and 7 of 10 free throws to dominate in the paint. He also had nine rebounds.
"Bennett showed his ability," Williams said, "but (Kirk) was by far the best player on the court tonight. That’s as big-time as it gets."
Kirk’s 16 points carried the Lobos to a 34-30 halftime lead, and they went up seven after Tony Snell opened the second half with a 3-pointer.
But Bennett woke up the Rebels. He scored eight points in three minutes – on two 3s and a baseline jumper – to key a 15-2 run that put UNLV ahead 45-39.
"They made runs when they got out in transition. When we got them into the half court, that really favored us," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "That was a huge task to guard a guy like Bennett. We got him in foul trouble."
Bennett, held to four points in the first half, picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with 14:14 left. The Rebels led 45-41 when Bennett went to the bench, and the Lobos came back to take a 52-51 lead on Cameron Bairstow’s dunk with 8:07 to go. Bennett returned at the 7:39 mark, but New Mexico extended its lead to 56-51 on Williams’ 3 with 6:28 left.
The Lobos went through a three-minute scoring drought, and UNLV went up 58-56 on Justin Hawkins’ 3 with 3:25 left.
The Rebels unraveled on their next three possessions. Katin Reinhardt missed a 3 attempt before Marshall and Bennett each committed turnovers that led to four points for New Mexico.
As is sometimes the case on the road, the whistles favored the home team. New Mexico made 15 of 29 free throws, including 6 of 14 in the final 3:06. UNLV made 4 of 5 free throws but did not get to the line in the second half.
"We tried to make an effort to attack the basket. We tried to get to the free-throw line," Rebels coach Dave Rice said. "They double-teamed Anthony, and he was unselfish like he always is. When we moved the ball, we got open shots."
Bryce Dejean-Jones scored nine points, Hawkins had eight, and Marshall and Reinhardt each finished with seven. Junior forward Mike Moser, returning from a dislocated right elbow, was held to three points in 14 minutes off the bench.
Snell had 13 points and Williams 11 for New Mexico, which handed UNLV its third loss at The Pit in less than a year, including an NCAA Tournament loss here to Colorado.
"We’re defending champions, and it’s our home court," Williams said. "So we did what we were supposed to do."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.NEW MEXICO — 65
UNLV — 60
KEY: Kendall Williams’ 3-pointer with 2:11 left put the Lobos ahead to stay.
NEXT: Air Force at UNLV, 7 p.m. Saturday