FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – The 22nd-ranked Colorado State Rams had the 16th-ranked New Mexico Lobos and their hot-shooting guard Kendall Williams right where they wanted them.
Six minutes to go. Up six. Arena rocking.
Williams on the bench with four fouls – and 28 points.
They were about to lock up their 28th straight home win and vault into a first-place tie with the Lobos atop the Mountain West Conference standings.
After a timeout, however, Williams returned to the Lobos’ lineup and, incredibly, scored 18 more points in a 27-12 run that sent the Rams trudging off the court with their first home loss since Nov. 11, 2012.
Williams’ 46 points included a league record 10 3-pointers and New Mexico’s 91-82 win Saturday gave them a sweep of the season series.
The Lobos (23-4, 10-2) took a two-game lead over the second-place Rams (21-5, 8-4).
“After this one, you’ve got to start to taste it,” Williams said. “If we handle business this week then we can really feel confident in our abilities to get this ring.”
The Rams surrendered 45 points to Air Force’s Michael Lyons a week earlier and their second straight loss will almost certainly send them tumbling from the rankings that they reached this month for the first time since 1954.
The Rams’ 27-game winning streak was the nation’s third-longest. Syracuse had the longest at 38 games, but it was snapped by Georgetown on Saturday, leaving South Dakota State’s 30-game home winning streak as the best in the nation.
Nobody had ever scored this many points at Moby Arena, which opened in 1966.
“Luckily, some shots went in,” said Williams, a junior guard from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who had never scored more than 24 and who bested the arena record of 44 set by Portland State’s Freeman Williams on Nov. 29, 1975.
“He should be hands-down player of the week, I would think,” Lobos coach Steve Alford deadpanned.
Williams helped the Lobos overcome that 70-64 deficit at the 6-minute mark by hitting a trio of 3-pointers, a dunk and seven free throws down the stretch.
Williams’ offensive display overshadowed a brilliant big man competition between Lobos center Alex Kirk (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Colorado State’s Colton Iverson (26 points, 15 boards).
The Rams blamed themselves for Williams’ big game.
“We had no answer for him,” Rams coach Larry Eustachy said. “… He was completely unstoppable. I want to see film on how many of those shots were contested.”
His bet is that not many were.
The Rams, who gave up 45 points to Air Force’s Michael Lyons a week earlier, left Williams open early on while locking down Tony Snell, who scored 10 points Saturday after getting 23 in their first meeting last month.
“He hadn’t been shooting well this year,” Dorian Green said. “We gave him some uncontested looks, let him get hot. Guys are too good in our league to do that.”
“We gave him open looks early,” Wes Eikmeier added. “He got hot and then he was feeling it the rest of the night.”
Williams’ previous career best was 24 points against Indiana State and New Mexico State earlier this season.
Green (20) and Eikmeier (22) gave the Rams three 20-point scorers in their losing effort. Eikmeier scored 11 straight to put the Rams ahead 55-50.
The Lobos quieted the crowd with a 12-6 run to regain the lead at 62-61, but Williams, less than a minute after returning to the lineup, was whistled for his fourth foul and took a seat at the nine-minute mark.
Williams’ 10th 3-pointer – in 13 tries – broke the conference mark of nine set by several players, most recently UNLV’s Chace Stanback against Central Arkansas on Dec. 28, 2011.
It also put New Mexico ahead 78-72. He would add a dunk and then seven free throws as the Rams sent the Lobos to the line over the final two minutes in a desperate attempt to catch up.
“I would say he was more determined,” Eustachy said of Williams. “Their team was far more determined than us, starting from myself on down.
The Rams were coming off a two-point loss at UNLV on Wednesday night that snapped their six-game winning streak, which began after a 66-61 loss to the Lobos in Albuquerque last month.
“I believe in these guys,” Eustachy said. “I can’t get a crystal ball and tell you how they’re going to respond, but I believe in them as much as I did going into this week. I believe they’ll respond. Face it, this team was picked fifth in a lot of magazines. They caught two really difficult opponents.
“When you play these types of teams, you’re going to have to play near perfect. I’m not a coach sitting here dumbfounded and not knowing what the answer it. I know exactly what the answer is. The team needs to listen and execute better.”
And if they face the Lobos again in the MWC tournament next month, they’ll know better than to leave Williams open.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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