It’s not how you start — it’s how you finish.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team led nearly wire-to-wire against Boise State on Tuesday evening, but failed to execute down the stretch — making critical errors and surrendering the final eight points at the end of the game on the way to a 73-71 loss.
It was the first loss at home in Mountain West Conference place for New Mexico (12-13, 7-5 MW), which tumbled all the way to fifth in the conference standings after it entered the game sitting in third place.
And if blowing a late-game lead wasn’t bad enough, the team also lost senior Joe Furstinger for his actions toward the end of the game. Boise State’s Marcus Dickinson rebounded a missed layup as time expired — but took a shot from Furstinger, who extended his arms up around Dickinson's head and neck area.
Furstinger was presumably trying to commit a foul to extend the game, but the Broncos took exception, and the benches cleared before order was restored.
New Mexico head basketball coach Paul Weir reacts to a call during the second half of Tuesday night's game at Dreamstyle Arena. The Lobos gave up a late lead and lost 73-71 to Boise State.
UNM head coach Paul Weir apologized for the incident that occured at the end of the game, admonishing the behavior and saying he was disappointed.
“What happened at the end of the game was completely unacceptable. I am sick about it — as sick as I am about the game," he said.
The Mountain West appeared to be in agreement, handing down a one-game suspension to Furstinger for violating the conference’s rule regarding sportsmanship.
New Mexico was blown out when it faced Boise State earlier in the season, but showed that would not be the case again as the Lobos dictated the pace in the early stages of the game.
The teams traded shots in the opening minutes, but UNM started to create some separation with some good ball movement and good 3-point shooting. Junior guard Chris McNeal knocked down New Mexico’s third 3-pointer to give the Lobos a 19-14 edge, prompting Boise State to burn a timeout with 10:49 in the half.
The lead grew to double digits as New Mexico continued to trap the Broncos and force errant passes, piling up an 11-2 advantage in points off turnovers by the break. The Lobos lead by as many as 13 points and went into the locker room up 40-27.
Bronco guard Chandler Hutchison was essentially held in check in the opening frame, scoring just six points before the senior notched the final bucket of the first half.
Boise State, which shot 39.3 percent and assisted on just one basket in the first half, starting making shots and got back into the game quickly in the second half as Hutchison became more of a factor.
But senior guard Antino Jackson buried back-to-back 3-pointers to increase the margin to 11 points again, 46-35 at the 16:37 mark.
The Broncos cut the lead to six less than a minute later, but the Lobos answered to push things to a 13-point bulge again with 8:16 left after a Sam Logwood dunk made the score 62-49.
Boise State made it a four-point game on a few occasions over the next several minutes, but UNM still appeared to be in good shape when Jackson stepped up and sank a pair of free throws to make it 70-63 and still enjoyed that lead with under two minutes to play.
Both squads had experience playing in close games this season, but BSU found a way to grind things out while the Lobos wilted under the pressure.
Junior guard Anthony Mathis made one free throw, but missed his second attempt at the line and a pair of turnovers on consecutive possessions provide the Broncos with the opening they needed. Hutchison collected the ball and threw down a dunk following the second turnover to pull his team within 71-70 with 22.8 seconds remaining.
Still, UNM had the ball — with the lead — and two timeouts to work with. The Broncos were in a position where they needed to hope for a turnover or foul quickly if it didn’t materialize — they got the former.
Mathis received the inbound pass and was trapped near the baseline under his own basket. The guard made an ill-advised pass that Hutchison stepped in front of and laid in to give BSU a 72-71 lead. After UNM failed to connect on a 3-point attempt, it was the Lobos who were forced to foul to extend the game.
Boise State’s Justinian Jessup left the door open by missing his second free throw attempt, setting up a chance for Mathis to redeem himself as he drove down the center of the lane for a potential game-tying attempt. But Mathis’ running layup attempt was just a bit too strong as the Broncos held on to steal the 73-71 victory.
The Lobos will try to put things in the rearview mirror when they travel to Colorado to take on the Air Force Academy on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.