The University of New Mexico men's basketball team seemed to fall apart in the second half, creating a large deficit it was unable to overcome in a 82-70 road loss on Saturday evening.
New Mexico (9-12, 3-6 MW) got the start it wanted.
A defensive stop to begin the game, followed by a quick layup from Makuach Maluach opened the scoring for an early 2-0 lead.
UNM didn't just "stay in the game" or "hang around" against the Bulldogs. The Lobos got an opportunity to do something it hasn't enjoyed often this season — play from ahead.
The teams traded buckets for a few possessions before junior forward Carlton Bragg finished while drawing contact to complete a 3-point play and give the Lobos an 11-7 cushion.
Senior guard Anthony Mathis added a 3-point basket and minutes later Corey Manigault got one the old-fashioned way when he absorbed contact, made the shot anyway and hit his free throw to put New Mexico on top 19-11 with 12:28 remaining in the first half.
Then the Lobos went cold — really cold.
More than six minutes elapsed before the Lobos were able to sneak another point on the scoreboard and the lead evaporated quickly. It took well over eight minutes before UNM finally hit a shot from the floor — another 3-pointer from Mathis that tied the game 24-24.
New Mexico had been just 1-for-13 from long range up until that point, and were somewhat fortunate Fresno State was struggling shooting the ball as well.
At one point, both schools were in the mid-30's in shooting percentage and 18 percent from 3-point range — preventing either team from building momentum, let alone a big lead.
A third 3-pointer from Mathis put the Lobos back on top, but the schools took turns leading the game over the next several possessions before UNM point guard Keith McGee split a pair from the foul line to even the score at 32-32.
Bragg briefly gave the Lobos the lead once again with a free throw at the 24 second mark, but Fresno State's Deshon Taylor was fouled on a made basket in the closing seconds and gave the Bulldogs a 35-33 edge heading into the half.
Freshman forward Nate Grimes had already amassed a double-double by halftime — recording a game-high 10 points, while also pulling down 10 rebounds. Mathis led the Lobos with nine points, all of which came off 3s.
Neither team had much to brag about from downtown. The two schools combined to miss an incredible 22 3-pointers in the first half alone. UNM was 3-for-16 thanks to the back-to-back makes late in the half from Mathis, while Fresno State went 2-for-11 in the opening frame.
Fresno State found its footing after halftime and rebounded to shoot 50 percent in the second half.
New Mexico did not.
The Lobos played poorly at times on both ends of the floor, shooting just 29.7 percent and allowing the back court tandem of Taylor and Braxton Huggins to have their way in the second half, which seemed to cause head coach Paul Weir to question the commitment to the strategy.
"I thought we played really well the first 20 minutes... (but) that early to middle part of that second half ... the defensive game plan went a little south." Weir said in a release.
The Bulldogs also feasted on the Lobos on the glass. Fresno State had as many defensive rebounds, 38, as the Lobos had total rebounds. And although both teams secured 13 offensive boards, the Bulldogs capitalized on them to hold a 17-9 advantage in second chance points.
Fresno State never did find its touch from the outside, but really didn't need to — bullying the Lobos inside to the tune of 42-20 in points scored in the paint.
Maluach opened the second half the same way he did the first — slashing in for a layup and tied the score at 35-35 just over 30 seconds into the frame.
For more than half of the final 20 minutes, neither team was able to string together makes and stops to pull away. New Mexico successfully stayed within striking range and Mathis buried yet another long range shot to pull the score even at 46-46 with 12:41 on the clock.
Grimes and Taylor went to work in around the basket to put the Bulldogs back on top by four, but McGee got free and drilled a 3-ball to get back within 54-53 with 9:41 left to play.
But another scoring drought — one that was arguably worse than one they suffered in the first half — bit New Mexico hard and made it virtually impossible to recover from.
After the McGee 3-pointer, the Lobos made just two shots from the floor for the rest of the game.
That allowed Fresno State to pull away, stretching its lead to six points just inside of nine minutes to play, 11 at the 6:49 mark and as many as 16 points with about four minutes to play.
The squads traded free throws over the final couple of minutes and the Bulldogs did enough to sink the Lobos by a count of 82-70 to improve to 16-5 overall and 7-2 in Mountain West play.
Mathis ended up with a team-high 19 points for the Lobos, followed by 16 from Vance Jackson. But New Mexico appears to require at least a consistent third scorer that can consistently turn in an above-average scoring night — which is probably the minimum amount to overcome what is a pretty woeful offense.
The Lobos shot just 32 percent from the floor as a team for the game.
New Mexico will try its hand at home when the team hosts San Diego State at Dreamstyle Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 9 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.