UMass-New Mexico Preview
If New Mexico was eager to face a legitimate test after easy wins in its first two games, the opener of the Charleston Classic provided that - and a whole lot more.
The No. 19 Lobos figure to have another challenging assignment on their hands Friday when they take on unbeaten Massachusetts in the semifinals.
New Mexico (3-0) opened the season with wins over Alabama A&M and Charleston Southern by a combined 52 points before starting this tournament with Thursday's matchup against UAB.
A thrilling 97-94 victory in double overtime kept the Lobos unbeaten, but even they would admit some good fortune was involved. Kendall Williams and 7-foot Alex Kirk had late 3-pointers that forced the extra periods, and Cleveland Thomas' 3 with 39.5 seconds left put New Mexico up for good.
'It's amazing,'' first-year coach Craig Neal said. ''I always thought if we'd get a shot at it we might have a guy hit a shot.''
Williams is one of four starters back from last year's Mountain West champions who went 29-6. He finished with 29 points, the second-highest total of his career, and 10 assists.
''This is a group that's had a lot of success playing together and staying in games, said Williams, who has 27 assists and six turnovers in three games.
The inside tandem of Kirk and 6-foot-9 Cameron Bairstow was very effective again, combining for 37 points and 19 rebounds. Bairstow is averaging a team-best 24.0 points on 66.7 percent (26 for 39) shooting, while Kirk adds 18.7 points and a team-high 12.0 rebounds.
Despite missing his first four 3-pointers, Kirk stepped up to deliver his tying 3 with 2.2 seconds left to force the second overtime.
''I can shoot it,'' Kirk said. ''I haven't showed it very much, but I can shoot it.''
Lost in the wild finish was New Mexico committing only nine turnovers in a double-overtime game and overcoming 34.1 percent (31 for 91) shooting, including 8 for 38 from 3-point range. The Lobos entered the game shooting 65.8 percent on two-point field goals, second-best in the country behind Utah.
Neal said he expects another fast-paced battle with UMass (4-0), which didn't need any extra sessions to beat Nebraska 96-90 on Thursday.
''We'll just need to get some rest,'' he said. ''Our guys know what they have to do.''
Derrick Gordon had 22 points to lead five players in double figures as UMass held off the Cornhuskers in the final minute and improved to 4-0 for the third time in four seasons.
This could be another high-scoring affair with the Minutemen surpassing 80 points in their first four games for the first time in school history, even with leading scorer Chaz Williams limited to a season-low 10 points Thursday.
Williams averaged 21.0 points and 7.6 assists through the first three games.
Although UMass has lost nine of 10 against ranked opponents, it opened this season with wins over Boston College - which lost by two to No. 18 Connecticut on Thursday - and LSU before routing Youngstown State.
The winner of the first matchup between these schools advances to Sunday's championship.