Snell steals show in leading New Mexico past San Diego State
LAS VEGAS -- Friday night's Mountain West Tournament semifinal game between No. 15 New Mexico and San Diego State featured two guards who had won the last two conference player of the year awards in Kendall Williams of the Lobos and Jamaal Franklin of the Aztecs.
But both were upstaged by another guard, New Mexico 6-foot-7 junior Tony Snell.
Snell tied a school tournament record with five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 17 points while also holding Franklin to just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting to lead the Lobos to a 60-50 victory over the Aztecs at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Top seeded New Mexico (28-5), which is the defending tournament champion, will face the winner of Friday night's other semifinal between No. 3 seed UNLV and No. 2 seed Colorado State in the championship game on Saturday afternoon with the Mountain West's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake.
Junior forward Cameron Bairstow scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Lobos. Alex Kirk, UNM's 7-foot sophomore center, added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Lobos, who took control of the game with a 24-4 run over a 10-minute span that started with 5:57 remaining in the first half.
Snell, who was 5 of 8 beyond the arc, tied the school record for 3-pointers in a tournament game set by Royce Olney in the 1997 WAC Tournament. He connected on 3-pointers on three straight possessions early in the second half, the final one capping the 24-4 run and increasing New Mexico's lead to 43-22.
"I was trying to be aggressive," Snell, who entered the game averaging 12.2 points, said. "I heard the crowd going, so that got me going. They kind of backed off me, so I tried to shoot the ball and stay aggressive."
Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames each scored 14 points and Franklin added 12 rebounds for San Diego State (22-10), which never got closer than nine points down the stretch.
"Obviously (Franklin) is a great player," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "(But) I think he's 10 for 41 in our three games now. Tony Snell has had that assignment all three games. A big reason we're 2-1 this year against them is because of the job Tony Snell has done."
Alford has made it a point after each of the Lobos' first two wins in the tournament to single out the play of Snell, a third-team all-conference pick.
"Our team has gone to another level because of Tony's development defensively and his concentration defensively, trusting himself, trusting his teammates, using his length," Alford said. "He's gotten stronger over the off-season. He's now starting to use that."
"He's talented," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said of Snell. "And I think he's just starting to realize how good he is and how much better he can be at both ends of the floor. But I think it's not just Snell, but all of the New Mexico team. They guard and they guard you hard. They're very, very tenacious with how they guard you."
New Mexico took a 29-20 halftime lead as the more physical Lobos dominated inside. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Bairstow nearly had a double-double at intermission with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Kirk chipped in with six points and four boards.
San Diego State's starting front line of JJ O'Brien and DeShawn Stephens combined for two points and three rebounds in the first half. O'Brien, in fact, finished scoreless despite playing 28 minutes in the contest. He missed all six of his shots and didn't grab a rebound.
New Mexico finished the game with a 41-33 rebounding edge and held the Aztecs to 31.3 percent shooting. The Lobos finished with a 16-9 edge in second chance points.
One bright spot for San Diego State was the fact the Aztecs finished with season-low four turnovers, a school record for fewest in a Mountain West tournament game.
"Disappointed we didn't play better," Fisher said. "Disappointed we didn't keep it closer. Proud of our effort and fight. The good news is we'll live to play next week."
NOTES: The game was rematch of the 2012 Mountain West Tournament final won by the Lobos, 68-59. ... Either San Diego State or New Mexico has won the Mountain West Tournament the last three years. The Aztecs won it in 2010 and 2011 while the Lobos won it in 2012. ... The Lobos and Aztecs split the regular-season series with both team winning on its home court. San Diego State's 55-34 victory on Jan. 26 marked New Mexico's lowest point total in a game since Jan. 31, 1976, when the Lobos scored 32 at Utah.
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