Many people are still trying to make heads or tails of the University of New Mexico men's basketball team — as the squad dropped its second consecutive conference game with a 91-76 road loss to the Colorado State Rams.
New Mexico (8-8, 2-2 MW) has shown fans and basketball experts plenty of highs and lows already this season. From an unimpressive 6-6 non-conference start that included getting swept by rival New Mexico State for the second year in a row — to a 2-0 start in Mountain West play that showcased an 85-58 beatdown over then No. 6 Nevada — the Lobos have been consistently inconsistent.
The Lobos entered Saturday coming off an 80-69 loss against UNLV, but were a slight favorite to get past Colorado State. The Rams had their own struggles, starting 0-2 in conference play and 5-10 overall before taking down Air Force 87-64 on Jan. 8.
Colorado State might be viewed as a program that is down and trying to rebuild. But, despite falling on hard times in recent years, the Rams have traditionally been very good at home — particularly over the past decade.
And the Rams defended Moby Arena with relative ease on Saturday. The 1-0 lead New Mexico held 11 seconds into the game was the only one it would have all day as CSU exposed the Lobos on both offense and defense, appearing to be a step ahead for nearly the entirety of the game.
Colorado State hit three straight 3-pointers to secure a 9-1 lead and it looked as though New Mexico might be in trouble early. UNM cut the lead to three on a couple of occasions, but failed to come all the way back after getting a little sloppy with the ball late in the first half.
The Lobos' problems on defense seemed to be two-fold in the game. UNM head coach Paul Weir acknowledged Colorado State's quick start and how turnovers continued to put the defense in a tough spot.
"I thought they came out of the gate making a lot of really good shots," Weir said in a release. "When you turn the ball over like that against a team with that kind of speed, you're not even giving yourselves a chance."
UNM guard Dane Kuiper hit a shot with 16:09 to cut the lead to 11-8, but Ram forward Nico Carvacho went to work down low to build the lead back up. The junior registered 10 first-half points, along with teammate Hyron Edwards to amass a 48-38 halftime lead thanks to shooting 62 percent from the floor as a team.
New Mexico junior transfer Carlton Bragg had cut the lead to six with a 3-point play late in the half, but Colorado State scored and was gifted two more points after a poor decision in the final seconds forced a turnover and Lobo fouls in the final seconds.
Things went from bad to worse in the second half as the Lobos trailed by double digits for almost the whole way. Colorado State beat the Lobos inside and out, penetrating the lane at will and finding open shooters when it searched for a better shot.
New Mexico briefly made it a single-digit game after a Corey Manigault pull-up made it 57-49 with 12:17 to play. But CSU rattled off eight straight points to re-establish control and started to pull away.
Colorado State moved the ball around on offense and disrupted the Lobo offense by jumping in passing lanes and anticipating the moves of UNM players — often beating them to the spot.
The lead swelled to 25 at its high point after Edwards notched Colorado State's final points of the game, knocking down a 3-pointer with 98 seconds left in the game to make it 91-66.
New Mexico added some late buckets, which made the 91-76 final score appear perhaps closer than the game actually was. UNM got doubled up in the paint, where it was outscored 44-22 and gave up 24 points off 17 turnovers.
Four UNM players ended up in double figures as Vance Jackson had a team-high 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Edwards had a game-high 20 points for Colorado State, leading a quintet of double-digit scorers in the lop-sided win.
The Lobos will try to salvage their two-game road trip, but it doesn't look like things will get any easier. Their next game will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 15 when it travels to California to take on San Diego State at 9 p.m. The Aztecs are 7-2 at home this season.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s basketball, football and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.