Updated at: 11/21/2013 7:05 PM
By PETE IACOBELLI
(AP) CHARLESTON, S.C. - UAB coach Jerod Haase’s toughest task so far this season probably started when the Blazers went to the locker room after their disappointing, double-overtime loss to No. 19 New Mexico.
Haase undstood why his players might want to hang their heads after the Lobos twice kept the game going on last-second 3-pointers in regulation and overtime to pull out a 97-94 victory.
"I’m extremely proud of our guys," Haase said. "They played as hard as they could. Certainly disappointed at the loss, but at the same time we didn’t quit."
Haase’s group appeared to have pulled the upset twice, ahead by six in the final minute of the game and up 86-81 with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime.
Instead, Kendall Williams leaping, long-range shot tied the game up in regulation and Alex Kirk struck for one at the close overtime. Cleveland Thomas hit a 3-pointer in the second OT that finally put New Mexico (3-0) ahead for good.
UAB could not respond and will face Nebraska in the eight-team tournament’s consolation bracket. The Cornhuskers fell to Massachusetts, 96-90 earlier Thursday.
Chad Frazier had a career high 34 points to lead the Blazers while Rod Rucker had 18 points and a career-best 20 rebounds.
Haase said he had wanted his players to foul on the final play of regulation, but could not get it done. He felt there was too much time after Kirk’s bucket to give New Mexico opportunities at points with the clock stopped.
"That was the plan," he said. "But it wasn’t executed properly."
New Mexico coach Craig Neal had to smile when asked about his team’s late theatrics.
"It’s amazing," Neal said. "I always thought if we’d get a shot at it we might have a guy hit a shot."
Williams, who finished with 29 points, was first with the Lobos down 75-72 in regulation. He ran around the right side and leapt high in the air as he released the ball, which swished through as time ran out.
There was no doubt, said Williams, that he would take the shot. He was less sure about it’s accuracy as he drifted right. "There must have been an angel up there," he said.
New Mexico faced another deficit in the first overtime, down 86-81 to UAB (3-1). Then it was Kirk’s turn in the spotlight. He drew his team closer with a basket, then was left open on the top left side of the circle. Despite missing his first four 3-pointers, Kirk’s shot was true with 2.2 seconds left to force the second overtime.
"I can shoot it," Kirk said. "I haven’t showed it very much, but I can shoot it."
Kirk’s three-point play with 2:28 left in the second overtime looked as if it would finally be the back-breaker, putting New Mexico up 91-86. This time, it was UAB fighting back to tie as Chad Frazier had a three-point play and Tosin Mahinti an inside shot. But Thomas was left alone on his three-pointer with 39.5 seconds left and New Mexico held on.
When it was over, Williams put his hands on his head in amazement. "This is a group that’s had a lot of success playing together and staying in games," he said.
New Mexico moves on to play Massachusetts, a 96-90 winner over Nebraska earlier Thursday. UAB falls into the consolation bracket and will take on the Cornhuskers on Friday.
Cameron Bairstow had 21 points and eight rebounds for New Mexico before fouling out in regulation. Kirk had 16 points and 11 rebounds, until he, too, fouled out with two minutes left in the second overtime.
Frazier finished with a career-high 34 points while Rod Rucker had 18 points and a career-best 20 rebounds. Rucker went 12 of 13 from the foul line.
UAB looked as if it had the game wrapped up in both regulation and the first overtime.
The Lobos were ahead 35-26 at the break and were still in front 49-40 when the Blazers rallied to move in front down the stretch.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)