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ALBUQUERQUE — University of New Mexico Lobo head coach Craig Neal didn’t necessarily like what he saw in The Pit Wednesday night.
But Neal also didn’t like what he didn’t see.
“They used to have a killer instinct in them,” Neal said of his Lobos, who dropped to 3-1 in Mountain West play after a 79-76 loss to UNLV. “They’ve lost an edge. I can’t figure out what it is. They (still) have it and they are going to find it. If they don’t get it back, it’s going to be a long year.”
UNLV’s Runnin’ Rebels fired up the scoreboard for 46 points in the first half to grab a 46-42 lead. UNM won the second half, but only by a point, 31-30.
With the loss, UNM dropped in the Mountain West standings behind 4-0 San Diego State, while Nevada is 4-1 after a home loss to Boise State.
The Lobos had the ball in the final 26 seconds, but missed three attempts from long range trying to tie the score and force overtime.
The difference at the end was marginal. The Rebels needed a stop and a basket. The Lobos needed a basket and a stop. It went the way of the Rebels.
“We had opportunities to win the game and we didn’t,” said UNM’s Cameron Bairstow, who had 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor. “I thought we had a good mindset coming in, but defensively we weren’t quite ready.”
Bairstow said the Lobos might have underestimated UNLV’s offensive weapons. The Rebels shot 56.6 percent in the first half and 50 percent for the game.
UNM shot 44.4 percent over the 40 minutes.
The Lobos had four players in double figures: Bairstow (27), Alex Kirk (12), Kendall Williams (15) and Deshawn Delaney (11). Kirk had 11 boards and Williams had nine assists with no turnovers.
UNLV got 23 points from Bryce Dejean-Jones, who went 11-for-13 from the foul line and hit two free throws to push UNLV up 76-73.
“He was the key to their win,” said Neal of Dejan-Jones.
UNM won the board battle 33-26 and had 20 assists to eight for UNLV, although Neal saw a reason for Vegas’ low count on assists.
“We were getting beat on dribble drives,” said Neal. “It had nothing to do with 3-point shots.”
The Lobos had the ball at the 45.5-second mark down a single point. They went to Bairstow on the baseline for the lead, but his jumper was short.
UNLV got the rebound and the Lobos fouled Dejean-Jones. He made both free shots to give UNLV its 76-73 lead.
In the final 26.8 seconds the Lobos got 3-point attempts from Hugh Greenwood and Delaney that missed.
“It’s difficult to get down that much and claw your way back,” said Bairstow.
“We had four shots in the last 35 seconds to take the lead or tie it,” Neal said. “Cam had a good look to put us ahead and it didn’t go in. That’s the breaks. It’s a tough one to learn from. You can’t lose these types of game at home. Now, we have to pick up one somewhere else.”
The Lobos get that chance on Saturday at Fresno State.
In the final seconds, Greenwood drove and looped a long pass to Williams on the baseline. The Rebels’ defense was there.
The ball came back to Greenwood who threw up a floating trey, missed, but Bairstow got the board. Delaney then missed an open look from the baseline, but the ball went out on a Rebel with .08 to play.
After two timeouts, both by UNLV, UNM got the ball to Cullen Neal on the baseline. The freshman had to hurry a trey that touched the rim and fell away.