LAS VEGAS -- Moments after Drew Gordon helped lead New Mexico to the Mountain West Conference tournament title, delirious Lobos fans chanting "MVP! MVP!" surrounded the forward while he did a TV interview on the court.
Gordon was indeed named the tournament MVP after scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as the Lobos overpowered top-seeded and No. 18 San Diego State 68-59 to win the MWC tourney and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Gordon thought he should have been the regular-season conference player of the year, but that award went to San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin.
"I won one out of two; not bad," Gordon said. "I've been saying this whole time that we need to end up on top, be able to look back and kind of laugh at some of the honors that weren't awarded to our team."
Asked if the chip is coming off his shoulder, he answered: "No, it's not coming off. We've got stuff to accomplish. The season's not over. Games are still being played. You know, we still have another go at another championship. So, you know, in my eyes it's still there and bigger than ever."
Coach Steve Alford's Lobos (27-6) are headed to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. This is their first MWC tournament championship since 2005.
|More on New Mexico-San Diego St.|
|More college hoops coverage|
"Our league is deserving of four bids," Alford said. "You play the tournament for seeding in the NCAA tournament. We're the automatic qualifier. We had the best record in the league. We obviously feel like we deserve the best seed. It doesn't mean one of the other teams can't have an equal seed, but we're definitely deserving of the best seed that's handed out to the Mountain West Conference."
Tony Snell made four 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points. Kendall Williams also had 14 points for the Lobos, who shared the regular-season title with San Diego State but were the No. 2 seed due to a tiebreaker.
San Diego State (26-7), which never led, is expected to get an at-large NCAA bid. Chase Tapley scored a game-high 25 for SDSU while Franklin, the MWC Player of the Year, had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
TV cameras appeared to show Franklin flipping the middle finger to a referee after he was called for a foul just before halftime.
Franklin denied it.
"No, not at all," he said.
"The most important thing that I told our guys is how proud I am of what they've done throughout this season," said SDSU's Steve Fisher, whose team wasn't expected to be this good after losing four starters, including Kawhi Leonard to the NBA, off last year's team that reached the Sweet Sixteen and had a school-record 34 wins. "And they are, in our minds, champions and deserving champions. And the beauty is tomorrow we're going to have a 180 in terms of how we feel. But right now we don't feel good, and we shouldn't.
"But we also have the opportunity to be playing next week, which we will have, and the following week, and the following week, which we could," added Fisher, the MWC Coach of the Year.
Playing before a loud, partisan crowd at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center, the Lobos set a fast pace early, dominating down low and behind the arc, and the cold-shooting Aztecs never caught up.
New Mexico had a 17-point lead with 6:34 left before going cold in the last four minutes, allowing SDSU to get within five points with 1:21 to go.
Snell made the first two baskets of the game, including his first 3-pointer less than two minutes in for a 5-2 lead and then Gordon converted a three-point play to make it 8-1. Williams made a jumper in the key and Gordon scored off a rebound to make it 12-4.
Snell's third 3-pointer gave New Mexico an 18-6 lead with 10:28 before halftime. He hit his fourth one 27 seconds before the buzzer to make it 34-23 at halftime.
"I felt pretty good shooting the ball, so I figured, just keep shooting," Snell said.
The Lobos didn't slow down in the second half. After SDSU's James Rahon missed a 3-pointer on the opening possession, Gordon dunked and then Hugh Greenwood, a freshman point guard from Australia, hit a 3 for a 39-23 lead.
A night earlier, the Lobos fell behind No. 20 UNLV 12-0 and 17-4 before rallying late in the first half.
The Aztecs were trying to win their third straight MWC tourney title.
"We know what it feels like to be where they are right now, still on that court celebrating," Fisher said. "That's where we expected to be, which is why it hurts when you're not. And yet the reality of it is we're not and they are.
"I thought that we at times played too fast, did ourselves in a little bit," Fisher added. "New Mexico probably had something to do with that also.
The teams split the regular-season series, with SDSU rallying from a 10-0 deficit to win by five points in Albuquerque, and the Lobos winning by 10 in San Diego.