By scoring six points in the last 12 seconds, the New Mexico Lobos remained unbeaten at 3-0 Sunday night.
It was an almost-miracle finish as the Lobos beat George Mason (2-2) 70-69 in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, VI. New Mexico plays 23rd-ranked Connecticut Monday night at 8 p.m. MST for the tournament title. The Huskies needed double overtime to beat in-state rival Quinnipiac in the other semifinal.
The Lobos trailed by five points with 17 seconds left. Kendall Williams hit a long 3-pointer with 11.9 showing on the clock. Then he stole the inbounds pass. He passed to freshman Cleveland Thomas who drove toward the basket and spotted Tony Snell standing outside the 3-point line. Thomas passed to Snell and the junior guard calmly hit a 3, giving UNM the win.
``You compete and you fight for 40 minutes and good things happen,'' said UNM coach Steve Alford. ``We didn't play well, but we fought hard. I thought the steal by Kendall was a bigtime play. Then the freshman didn't take a bad shot, he passed instead.''
The only time UNM had a lead in the second half was with 1.8 seconds left in the game. They trailed by as many as eight points.
Turnovers were a problem again for the Lobos, who finished with 18. ``We've got a lot of new parts to this thing,'' Alford noted. ``To be 3-0 while you're learning is very pleasing.''
Snell was matter-of-fact about his winning basket. ``I saw the freshman drive it. I felt comfortable making 3s. We've learned that you have to have a strong finish.''
Snell had a career-high 27 points to go with four assists. He was 4-for-6 on 3-point shooting and made all seven foul shots he took. Williams had 14 points and made two of three of his 3s. He played the full 40 minutes.
Sophomore Alex Kirk started at center for the first time this season. He had 8 points and 9 rebounds. Cameron Bairstow came off the bench for 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
``I don't know much about Connecticut,'' Alford said. ``They look athletic and big. I know they have two dynamic guards.''