ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico nearly squandered a 22-point lead but ultimately hung on to defeat Colorado State 66-61 Wednesday night in a Mountain West Conference game.
The 15th-ranked Lobos (17-2, 4-0 MWC) led 54-32 at one point, only to see the Rams (15-4, 2-2) roar back to life late in the second half.
"I'm extremely pleased with our basketball team," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "Each week, I feel better. We're a pretty good basketball team.
"I think we're getting better, because we beat a real good basketball team."
Colorado State could not get any closer than six points until Pierce Hornung's putback and Wes Eikmeier's 3-pointer made it 64-61 with 8.2 seconds left.
New Mexico's Tony Snell, who led all players with 23 points, was then fouled and made two free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining to seal the victory. That came after back-to-back turnovers by Snell.
"I was just blocking it out," Snell said. "I know I get out of it when I make mistakes. I really don't like making mistakes. I've got to move on."
The game seemingly was in hand when Jamal Fenton made two free throws to give New Mexico a 56-36 lead midway through the second half, but from that point forward, the Lobos went through a dreadful 0-for-9 shooting slump.
"I thought for 30 minutes we were really good," Alford said. "We lost our concentration for about a six-, seven-minute frame."
Colorado State took advantage with a 13-1 run to suddenly pull within 57-49 with 4:51 remaining.
"We certainly made a game of it; we got to within one possession," Rams coach Larry Eustachy said. "We just got out-toughed throughout most of the game."
Cameron Bairstow briefly gave the Lobos some life with a dunk, and Snell hit his first shot since early in the second half, but the Rams would not go away. Red-hot Dorian Green (14 points) nailed a 3-pointer, and Colton Iverson (15 points) made two free throws to keep Colorado State within seven points.
Bairstow missed two free throws with 2:12 left.
Green was whistled for an offensive foul on Colorado State's ensuing possession, giving the Lobos the ball back with 1:30 to go.
Fenton missed a 3-pointer, but New Mexico got the rebound with one minute to go, and Kendall Williams drew a foul. He made one of two free throws to extend the Lobos' lead to 62-54.
Iverson was fouled and made both free throws, but Fenton countered with two more free throws to keep the margin at eight.
"We did the things we had to do to get the win," Alford said.
The Lobos finished the first half with an 8-0 run to take a 35-25 lead into intermission. Snell ignited the burst with a long jumper, forcing the Rams to call their second timeout.
It did not help as Colorado State turned the ball over and Snell made them pay with a drive through the lane that ended with a thunderous one-handed dunk.
"I just went for it," Snell said, grinning. "It just opened up and I saw the lane and I tried to finish strong."
Chad Adams would add a short jumper and Williams made two free throws to finish the run.
New Mexico was 11-for-12 from the free-throw line and 4-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half. In contrast, Colorado State was 4-for-10 from the line and 1-for-6 on three-pointers, negating a 23-15 rebounding advantage.
"They're No. 1 rebounding team in country," Adams said. "I think at the end of the day we did a really good job even though they were plus-14 (42-28) at the end of the game."
Wes Eikmeier led Colorado State with 20 points.
NOTES: The Lobos extended their best start in the Mountain West in team history. The last time New Mexico started league play 4-0 it was in the WAC back in 1991-92. The Lobos' overall mark of 17-2 is their best since 1977-78. ... Kirk, who sat out Monday's practice while battling the flu, was ruled healthy enough to play Wednesday. He scored three points and had three rebounds in 21 minutes. ... Colorado State's Hornung and Iverson entered the game as the leading rebounders in the Mountain West, with Hornung averaging 10.1 per game and Iverson at 9.0 per game. Hornung finished with just seven, but Iverson had 14 on Wednesday. The Rams had outrebounded their opponents by an average of 13.8 entering Wednesday and ended up with a 42-28 edge over the Lobos.