"I just felt my knee go out on me," he said in the locker room afterwards while fighting back tears. "At that time, it felt like the whole world was over."
Gary will likely play basketball again at the professional level somewhere on the map, but unfortunately, an MRI has revealed that his college career is over just before reaching the official finish line.
The Lobos' senior point guard, who started 130 consecutive games during a stellar run in Albuquerque, suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, and will miss the team's NIT opener on Tuesday night at home against UTEP.
The injury was especially tough on fourth-year UNM coach Steve Alford, who rushed out to the court to check on Gary while he was writhing in pain. Gary was Alford's first Lobo recruit, hand-picking him out of Elkhart, Indiana, to come out to Albuquerque and run his show. He was just as much responsible as Alford over the past four seasons for helping return the program to national prominence.
"Well, he's been our bus — he's been our little bus," Alford said afterwards. "He's been the guy, the last four years he's had an awful lot to do with the 97 wins. He did his dangdest to try to get one from the sideline. That's about the only way he hasn't won a game for us, is sitting on the sideline.
"You never like having any of your players get hurt. It's even harder I think when you're a senior. If it is a knee, and season-ending, it's a shame he's got to go out that way."
With ice and a heavy wrap around the knee, Gary slowly walked back down the hall at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas to watch his team hang with BYU until the closing minutes, only to have its slim NCAA tournament hopes busted by Jimmer Fredette and his 52-point barrage. He sat on the bench with a blank stare on his face and tears welling in his eyes a couple of times.
"I asked the doctor if I could go back, he said no," Gary said. "I just wish I could have helped my team. That was the only thing I was thinking about. They played well. We talked and said never to give up. They didn't give up until the horn went off."
Gary suffered the injury on a hard drive to the rack from the right wing, taking contact in mid-air before crumbling on the left block.
It was a play symbolic of his entire New Mexico career.
Always the first guy to dive on the floor for a loose ball or drive hard into a sea of big bodies to draw contact near the bucket, Gary hardly ever lobbied with refs for foul calls and was widely regarded as one of the most respected players in the league.
Last season, he scored 13.1 points per game and averaged 3.9 assists, steering the Lobos to a 30-win season and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year, New Mexico went just 21-12 as Gary was the ringleader for a crew of fresh faces. He was inconsistent at times, but averaged career-highs in points (14.1 ppg) and assists (5.5 apg) and was named as a first-team All-MWC performer for the second straight season.
"He's the rock to that team, keeps them all together, it's so unfortunate to see him go down like that," Fredette said. "I've been with him for the last four years. He's had a great career here. He's one of the best players that I've played against in this league. He's a great defender, he's a great guy. We always talk to each other before the game, we like to battle.
"I hope that his knee is OK and he'll be able to push forward in his career because he's a great player."
As it is, the Lobos might turn to Kendall Williams a bit sooner than expected to run the point.
The MWC Freshman of the Year has started every game but one this year, and is likely the team's leading man of the future. He had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists against BYU in the loss, helping steer things along with 5-foot-9 sophomore reserve Jamal Fenton.
Still, it's an unfortunate early ending to one of college basketball's more underrated recent careers.
- Steve Alford