LAS VEGAS — Upset that he failed to garner Mountain West Conference Player of the Year honors earlier in the week, New Mexico forward Drew Gordon was a man on a mission heading into the Mountain West Conference tournament.
“There were a lot of people that said they were going to vote for me that didn’t actually end up voting,” Gordon, who was passed over for the honor for San Diego State sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin, said after the Lobos’ 79-64 quarterfinal win over Air Force on Thursday. “It’s something that really fuels our fire. Hopefully we can look back on it and laugh.”
It was Gordon, named tourney MVP, and the Lobos (27-6) that were smiling late Saturday afternoon while cutting down the nets at the Thomas Mack Center after New Mexico rolled to a 68-59 victory over No. 18 San Diego State (26-7) in the championship game of the Mountain West Tournament.
The Aztecs and Lobos had tied for the regular season Mountain West title with 10-4 records and split their season series with both teams winning on the road. The rubber match wasn’t really that close as the Lobos led by double-digits for most of the game, denying the Aztecs a third straight Mountain West Tournament title in the process.
New Mexico, behind the hot shooting of 6-7 sophomore guard Tony Snell, took control from the start in this one, racing out to a 18-6 lead. Snell, ironically a former prep teammate of former San Diego State star Kawhi Leonard, led the way with 11 of his team co-high14 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
San Diego State then went on a 6-0 run that was a highlighted by a windmill jam by Franklin off a nice assist by James Rahon.
But the Lobos, behind the strong inside play of Gordon (12 points, 12 rebounds) and 6-9, 253-pound sophomore Cameron Bairstow (seven points), came right back with an 11-3 run to build their lead back up to 14 points, 29-15.
San Diego State cut the deficit to eight, 31-23, before Snell nailed his fourth 3-pointer in five first half attempts to boost New Mexico’s lead back to 34-23 at halftime.
The Lobos quickly built the lead to 16 points to start the second half behind a Gordon dunk and a 3-pointer by freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood, who finished with six points and 10 rebounds.
San Diego State, behind guard Chase Tapley (game-high 25 points) and Franklin (16 points, 10 rebounds), who appeared to make an obscene gesture at referee Randy McCall after he was whistled for a charge call just before halftime, got as close as five points, 62-57, on a pair of free throws by Xavier Thames with 1:21 remaining. But New Mexico closed the game out with a 7-1 run at the free throw line to win going away.
Counting regular season conference games against UNLV, the loss was only the second in 12 games at the Thomas Mack Center for the Aztecs.