ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Quantity of free-throw shooting proved more important than quality Wednesday night at the Pit.
Overcoming some crucial missed free throws down the stretch, 25th-ranked New Mexico held off 24th-ranked UNLV 65-60 in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.
Alex Kirk finished with 23 points and nine rebounds as New Mexico prevailed, improving to 14-2.
"That was as difficult as conference openers can be," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "Those were two really good teams that fought each other."
The Lobos had their chances to pull away late at the free-throw line, but they were only 6-for-12 from the line in the last three minutes.
"Both teams made it hard on each other to score," Alford said. "I thought the key was they made runs when they got out in transition. When we got them into half-court, that really favored us.
"I just thought our guys battled. It's a game where we shoot 38 percent (from the floor) and 51 percent (from the line) against a nationally ranked team."
The Lobos made 15 of 29 foul shots. The Rebels (13-3) attempted just five free throws, making four.
Highly touted UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett was held to 12 points and six rebounds, well below his season averages of 19.9 and 9.1, respectively. Foul trouble limited him to just 26 minutes after he picked up his fourth on a charge with 14 minutes remaining.
"It was a physical game," Rebels coach Dave Rice said. "We didn't do a very good job of overcoming the foul trouble that we were in."
New Mexico trailed by a point after Kirk made one of two free throws with 2:26 left, but the Rebels kicked the ball out of bounds after the miss on the second shot. Kendall Williams made them pay, hitting a 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining to put the Lobos ahead 60-58.
"Just throughout the flow of the game sometimes I take some tough shots," Williams said. "(Even) when Alex Kirk has the night he did, they're going to show a lot of attention to him, but I'm the leading scorer. I feel it needs to be in my hands (late)."
Another UNLV turnover followed, and New Mexico got an offensive rebound after Williams' off-balance 3-point attempt hit off the rim.
Khem Birch then committed a foul on Williams' drive to the basket with 41.5 second left. Williams hit the first free throw but missed the second.
Williams was fouled again with 35.6 seconds left and the Lobos holding a three-point lead. Again he made one of two to extend New Mexico's lead to 62-58.
The Rebels countered with Anthony Marshall's driving layup with 28.6 remaining to reduce the deficit to two points.
Tony Snell hit one of two free throws to make it 63-60, setting up a furious final 25.4 seconds.
UNLV's Katin Reinhardt missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. New Mexico's Hugh Greenwood got the rebound was immediately fouled by Birch. Greenwood missed both free throws with 13 seconds left, but UNLV turned the ball over. Snell sealed the game, sinking two free throws with seven seconds to go.
"It's a huge (win)," Kirk said. "This league, you're going to have to definitely protect the house. I just heard Boise barely beat Wyoming. It's going to be like that every time you're on the road. It's going to be a battle."
Kirk scored 16 points in the first half, which ended with New Mexico holding a 34-30 lead.
Lobos senior Chad Adams sustained a hyperextended right knee injury with three minutes remaining in the first half. Adams had to be helped to the locker room, but he returned in the second half.
New Mexico trailed 22-17 after Reinhardt hit a 3-pointer with 8:01 left before halftime.
The Lobos went to work and took a 24-22 lead on Snell's 3-pointer.
UNLV tied things back up on a pair of Birch free throws, only to see Greenwood complete a three-point play and put New Mexico up for good in the half.
The Lobos shot just 38.6 percent (22-for-57) for the game, while the Rebels hit 40 percent (24-for-60) from the floor.
Birch and Bennett led UNLV with 12 points.
Snell added 13 points and Williams had 11 for New Mexico, scoring nine of those in the second half.
NOTES: Mike Moser made his first appearance for UNLV since he dislocated his elbow on Dec. 9 at California. He finished with three points on 1-for-6 shooting in 14 minutes of action. ... This was only the third time in 14 years that the Lobos opened Mountain West play at home. They won both of the previous games in 2001 and 2005. ... New Mexico and UNLV split their regular-season games in 2011-12, but the Lobos had the last laugh with a 72-67 win in Las Vegas in a Mountain West tournament semifinal.