New Mexico has had an uneven season, but the Lobos have been nearly unbeatable at home.
Their only loss at Dreamstyle Arena-The Pit was to fourth-ranked San Diego State.
Until Saturday, that is, when UNLV went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and won 78-73, making key plays late to seal the victory.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Rebels coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “They stuck together. We talked about the success they’ve had on this court. I thought our guys did a great job of executing the game plan start to finish and really shared the basketball and played for each other.”
UNLV (13-14, 8-6 Mountain West) had lost five of its previous six games, but the Rebels swept the Lobos (17-10, 6-8) for the second consecutive year. New Mexico’s record at home dropped to 14-2.
The Lobos had the ball and a chance to win down 74-73 with 24 seconds left, but UNLV’s Elijah Mitrou-Long stripped Zane Martin six seconds later.
“(Mitrou-Long) was phenomenal,” Otzelberger said. “The stats don’t even talk about his energy, getting loose balls, steals, guarding the dribble. He had a bigger guy all night long regardless of who he was taking. He set the tone for us.”
After Mitrou-Long’s steal, it was a matter of winning the game at the free-throw line, which until the closing seconds was a problem for UNLV for the second straight game. The Rebels made 12 of 25 free throws in Wednesday’s 82-79 overtime loss to UNR, and they were 3 of 10 Saturday at the time of Mitrou-Long’s steal.
But Amauri Hardy converted both ends of a one-and-one with 12 seconds remaining, and Bryce Hamilton made two free throws with three seconds left to end any doubts.
Mitrou-Long and Hamilton led UNLV with 17 points apiece, and Hardy and Marvin Coleman each scored 16. The Rebels made 50 percent of their shots, including going 7 of 16 from the 3-point line.
New Mexico shot 34 free throws to UNLV’s 14, but the Lobos missed seven free throws in the final 4:26. Three Rebels finished with four fouls apiece.
Makuach Maluach scored 19 and Corey Manigault 17 for New Mexico.
UNLV continued to play a lot of small lineups, often going with four guards and sometimes five.
“We wanted to get it out in transition when we could, even on their makes,” Otzelberger said. “We thought especially when we go four guards, we could attack them in space.”