Lamont Butler carried the ball and, he thought, the confidence of his coach as the seconds ticked off the clock last Saturday in Albuquerque.
“I was calm,” the San Diego State 6-foot-2 guard said. “I knew Dutch (Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher) drew up the play for me, so I knew I had to make a play to win the game.”
Butler was certainly calm enough as he moved up the floor with the Aztecs trailing the New Mexico Lobos 71-70 in front of a crowd of 15,431 at The Pit.
But it wasn’t how Dutcher drew it up.
“Obviously I didn’t draw a play up for Lamont to come down and shoot a three with six seconds,” said Dutcher, whose Aztecs are No. 1 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings.
Dutcher called a timeout immediately after New Mexico’s Jalen House stole the ball from the Aztecs’ Darrion Trammell and converted a layup for a 71-70 New Mexico lead with six seconds to play.
“I said (in the timeout), ‘We have six dribbles with six seconds,’” Dutcher explained. “We tried to get him (Butler) up the sidelines and get him to the rim, to try and win it at the rim.”
New Mexico coach Richard Pitino also didn’t expect Butler to be the hero. “I thought they would go to (Matt) Bradley with something,” Pitino said. “I thought it was kind of gutsy for them to knock down a three.”
Butler, a 33 percent shooter on threes (29-of-87) this year, never thought of going up the sideline or even passing the ball. “I got the ball with around five seconds to go,” he said. “I got to half-court and I fumbled it a little bit. As soon as I looked up there were two seconds left and I knew I had to let it go.”
Butler drained the shot for one of the more dramatic victories of the season (73-71) in the Mountain West.
“I don’t know if they (New Mexico) sent him up the middle or he came there,” Dutcher said. “But he had the poise to raise up and knock down a really hard shot.”
The Aztecs, 23-5 overall and 14-2 in the Mountain West, trailed the Lobos, 37-27, at halftime. In the second half, though, the Aztecs shot 19-of-35 from the floor and 8-of-15 on threes. New Mexico was just 11-of-27 from the floor and 1-for-5 on threes after the break.
New Mexico’s Jamal Mashburn scored 20 points despite shooting just 6-of-15 from the floor. Mashburn, however, did drain three free throws to cut the Aztecs’ lead to 70-69 with 16 seconds to play.
“We played hard and we shared the ball,” said Pitino, whose Lobos (20-9, 7-9) have gone 6-9 since starting the year 14-0. “They just hit a big three at the end.”
No. 6 New Mexico has suffered five losses in the Mountain West this year by five points or less. Two of those narrow losses came against the No. 2 Nevada Wolf Pack, which beat San Jose State (66-51) and Fresno State (60-56) last week to improve to 22-7, 12-4.
The Wolf Pack will play at Wyoming on Monday night (Feb. 27) and host UNLV on Saturday to close out the regular season.
No. 3 Utah State beat Wyoming, 65-55, in its lone game last week. The Aggies held Wyoming to 6-of-28 shooting in the second half and 2-of-11 on threes to improve to 22-7, 11-5.
No. 4 Boise State (22-7, 12-4) suffered the biggest upset of the week, falling to No. 5 San Jose State, 74-68, in overtime. The Broncos were up 54-42 with 8:17 to go in regulation before collapsing in front of a crowd of 2,321 at San Jose State. The Broncos scored just eight points in the final 11:33 of regulation and just two points in the final 6:41.
San Jose State’s Alvaro Cardenas hit a 3-pointer to cut Boise’s lead to 58-57 with 47 seconds to go and Robert Vaihola hit a free throw to tie it with six seconds to play. Omari Moore, who finished with 24 points, hit a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 61-58 lead just 33 seconds into the overtime and Boise never recovered.
The Spartans (17-12, 8-8) ended up outscoring the Broncos 28-4 in bench points and 15-0 on second-chance points.
“They (Boise State) are very hard to score on,” San Jose State coach Tim Miles said. “If we didn’t play great D at that time we were going nowhere fast.”
Boise State was coming off an emotional and physically draining 82-77 victory at home three nights earlier against New Mexico. Max Rice had 30 points on five threes in the victory, though the Broncos’ Tyson Degenart was held to 13 points on 0-for-8 shooting on threes.
“New Mexico came across the ring (like a boxer) and gave us some good blows,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We got up, dusted ourselves off and started fighting again.”
No. 7 UNLV (17-11, 6-10) beat No. 10 Air Force, 54-53, at home last week behind 23 points and seven rebounds from Elijah Harkless. The Rebels trailed 53-52 before Jackie Johnson stole the ball with eight seconds to play and fed Keshon Gilbert inside. Gilbert, though, missed the layup but Harkless grabbed the offensive rebound and put it back in for the game-winner.
“Jackie getting a hand on that pass was the only option we had left,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said.
UNLV cut the Air Force lead to 53-52 with eight seconds to play on a dunk by Shane Nowell off a pass from Harkless. Johnson then stole the Falcons’ in-bounds pass from Ethan Taylor to help the Rebels steal the victory.
“The only chance we had to win the game was somebody getting a deflection and a steal and he (Johnson) did it,” said Kruger, whose Rebels are now 15-0 this season when holding an opponent under 72 points.
One of those victories was 68-62 over Nevada on Jan. 28 in Las Vegas. The rematch is this Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center. UNLV has beaten Nevada three games in a row.
No. 9 Fresno State (10-18, 6-11) also beat Air Force, 74-69, as Eduardo Andre scored 26 points and had seven rebounds and three steals. The Bulldogs then fell at Nevada three nights later, 60-56, committing 17 turnovers.
“The turnovers hurt us,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said after the Nevada loss. “We were really loose with the ball, especially in the first half. We had a couple silly turnovers and it’s not enough to beat these really good teams.”
No. 11 Wyoming (8-20, 3-13) lost at home to Utah State, 65-55, and on the road at Colorado State, 84-71, in front of a crowd of 8,083. Guard Hunter Maldonado had 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Utah State and followed up with 23 points and five assists against Colorado State.
“When you allow the other team (Colorado State) to shoot 60 percent, it’s going to be tough to win,” Wyoming coach Jeff Linder said.
No. 8 Colorado State (13-16, 5-11) was 29-of-49 from the floor for 59 percent.
“At the seven-minute mark, it’s a five-point game (63-58 Colorado State) but we had the momentum,” Linder said. “But they went on a 10-0 run and the game goes from five points to 15 (with four minutes to play) and it’s over.”
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 27:
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (23-5, 14-2): Last week: San Diego State 77, Colorado State 58 (Feb. 21), San Diego State 73, New Mexico 71 (Feb. 25). This week: San Diego State at Boise State (Feb. 28), Wyoming at San Diego State (March 4).
2. NEVADA (22-7, 12-4): Last week: Nevada 66, San Jose State 51 (Feb. 21), Nevada 60, Fresno State 56 (Feb. 24) This week: Nevada at Wyoming (Feb. 27), UNLV at Nevada (March 4).
3. UTAH STATE (22-7, 11-5): Last week: Utah State 65, Wyoming 55 (Feb. 21). This week: Utah State at UNLV (March 1), Boise State at Utah State (March 4).
4. BOISE STATE (22-7, 12-4): Last week: Boise State 82, New Mexico 77 (Feb. 22), San Jose State 74, Boise State 68, OT (Feb. 25). This week: San Diego State at Boise State (Feb. 28), Boise State at Utah State (March 4).
5. SAN JOSE STATE (17-12, 8-8): Last week: Nevada 66, San Jose State 51 (Feb. 21), San Jose State 74, Boise State 68, OT (Feb. 25). This week: Colorado State at San Jose State (Feb. 28), San Jose State at Air Force (March 4).
6. NEW MEXICO (20-9, 7-9): Last week: Boise State 82, New Mexico 77 (Feb. 22), San Diego State 73, New Mexico 71 (Feb. 25). This week: Fresno State at New Mexico (Feb. 28), New Mexico at Colorado State (March 3).
7. UNLV (17-11, 6-10): Last week: UNLV 54, Air Force 53 (Feb. 24). This week: Utah State at UNLV (March 1), UNLV at Nevada (March 4).
8. COLORADO STATE (13-16, 5-11): Last week: San Diego State 77, Colorado State 58 (Feb. 21), Colorado State 84, Wyoming 71 (Feb. 24). This week: Colorado State at San Jose State (Feb. 28), New Mexico at Colorado State (March 3).
9. FRESNO STATE (10-18, 6-11): Last week: Fresno State 74, Air Force 69 (Feb. 21), Nevada 60, Fresno State 56 (Feb. 24). This week: Fresno State at New Mexico (Feb. 28).
10. AIR FORCE (14-16, 5-12): Last week: Fresno State 74, Air Force 69 (Feb. 21), UNLV 54, Air force 53 (Feb. 24). This week: San Jose State at Air Force (March 4).
11. WYOMING (8-20, 3-13): Last week: Utah State 65, Wyoming 55 (Feb. 21), Colorado State 84, Wyoming 71 (Feb. 24). This week: Nevada at Wyoming (Feb. 27), Wyoming at San Diego State (March 4).
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