ST. LOUIS — Trying desperately to steal victory in its NCAA second round South Region game Friday, New Mexico thought it had a willing mark.
Stanford reserve guard Robbie Lemons showed otherwise.
Playing for the first time in the second half, Lemons calmly sank both ends of a one-and-one with 23.8 seconds left as the 10th-seeded Cardinal wrapped up a 58-53 victory at Scottrade Center.
Those were the only points for Lemons, a 6-foot-3 senior from Carmichael, Calif., who averaged only 2.2 points in 32 games and made only 7-of-12 free throws.
“Absolutely, he was one of the guys we wanted to foul,” Lobos coach Craig Neal said. “What had he taken, 12 free throws all year?”
Instead, Lemons looked like one of his more heralded teammates — guard Chasson Randle, who collected a team-high 23 points — as he eagerly stepped to the line and converted under pressure.
“I just tried to pretend like these were the same free throws I’d shot at home and in practice, over and over,” Lemons said. “It means a lot to be in that type of situation and be able to help your team win.”
Stanford (22-12) led for all but a minute and 57 seconds, but coughed up a 16-point first half lead and hadn’t scored in 4:33 when Lemons embraced his moment under the bright lights.
“It just goes to show the value of staying engaged in the game,” he said. “Just being ready when the coach calls on you.”
The Cardinal’s readiness at the game’s start was without question. They hit their first six shots, including three 3-pointers, and owned a 20-4 lead when Randle laid in an alley-oop pass at the 13:38 mark.
Seventh-seeded New Mexico (27-7) worked gamely the rest of the way to erase the big deficit. It drew within 32-27 at halftime, scoring the first half’s last eight points, and tied the game, 45-45, when guard Cullen Neal converted in transition with 10:07 left.
But Randle drilled a 3-pointer with 8:56 on the clock to put Stanford ahead to stay. The Lobos went scoreless for 6:50 after Neal’s bucket, missing eight consecutive shots, as senior forward Cameron Bairstow, who had 24 points and eight rebounds, suddenly went cold.
“Maybe we were a little tired,” Bairstow said of the last 10 minutes. “But they were playing their starters as much as we did. They were making shots down the stretch that we didn’t. So I don’t know if fatigue was a factor.”
Bairstow scored 10 of his team’s first 13 second half points, but got no help from his usually reliable wingmen. Guard Kendall Williams (1-of-9 shooting, three points) and center Alex Kirk (0-for 3, three points) were non-factors.
Williams missed all six of his 3-point shots, while Kirk drew two quick first half fouls and played only 26 minutes before fouling out in the dying seconds.
“It’s hard to stop two great players like Williams and Kirk,” Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I thought (guard) Anthony (Brown) and (forward) Dwight (Powell) were able to bother them with their length.”
Brown and center Stefan Nastic each added 10 points for Stanford, which will play either No. 2 Kansas or No. 15 Eastern Kentucky on Sunday.
Guard Deshawn Delaney scored 10 points for New Mexico, which adopted the motto of “Unfinished Business” this season. After winning the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament titles last season, the Lobos suffered a second round loss to Harvard in Salt Lake City.
First-year coach Craig Neal, who took over after Steve Alford accepted the UCLA job in April, said he didn’t regret using the mantra.
“Failure is success turned inside out,” he said. “I just hate it for our three seniors that they don’t get to continue this journey.”
NOTES: Stanford entered the game canning 46.4 percent of its field goals, the highest mark since the 2003-04 team sank 47.9 percent from the floor. … New Mexico had the only two players who made 50 percent or better of their field goals in Mountain West Conference play — F Cameron Bairstow (57.6) and C Alex Kirk (50.0). … Bairstow’s 41 free-throw attempts in the MWC tournament were an event record, surpassing
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