FORT COLLINS, CO — Maybe the first half of the Lobos’ season was just a flash in the pan. Maybe the University of New Mexico’s sagging defensive philosophy just isn’t suited for the modern game.
Or maybe it was both, as the Lobos (15-4, 4-2 MW) could only watch as Colorado State (12-7, 3-3 MW) caught fire from beyond the arc, hitting 19 of 28 attempts (67.9%) before the final buzzer, handing UNM a 105-72 loss on Jan. 15 at Moby Arena.
After Wednesday night’s blowout, UNM now boasts bottom-five ranks in both 3-point attempts and makes allowed across all 353 Division I teams this season.
"(Colorado State) weren’t missing," head coach Dr. Paul Weir said after the game. "Obviously, there’s some ones we left them open, particularly early in the game. We started out in the zone press, that I regret."
All told, six Rams ended the night in double figures, led by standout freshman guard Isaiah Stevens, who finished the night with 19 points and 8 assists. Stevens led all players in both categories and nearly matched UNM’s 10 total assists as a team.
CSU’s 105 points was tied for the most points allowed by the Lobos in the last decade, with the only other such occasion being a 1-point overtime loss to Nevada in 2017.
UNM held the lead for the majority of that particular game against Nevada. The same couldn’t be said for the Lobos Wednesday night, as Weir's men led for just 27 total seconds, all coming in the first two minutes of the game.
With senior Carlton Bragg’s removal from the team days earlier following an arrest for aggravated DWI, junior Corey Manigault is the team’s only remaining true big man. Keeping Manigault out of foul trouble in Bragg’s absence was a key piece of UNM’s gameplan to keep CSU’s Nico Carvacho, one of the conference’s premiere big men, at bay.
Suffice it to say, this plan didn’t pan out. Manigault picked up two offensive fouls in the game’s opening minutes and remained a general non-factor, recording 8 points and a single rebound while Carvacho coasted to a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double in just 26 minutes.
CSU dominated the stat sheet, outpacing UNM by a considerable margin in rebounds (36 to 23) and assists (27 to 10) and led by as many as 39 points late into the second half. UNM led the nation in both free throws made and attempted coming into Wednesday night’s tilt but finished the game shooting just 6-for-11 from the charity stripe.
The lone bright spot for UNM was guard Zane Martin, who put together a 17-point, 4-assist outing and — on the heels of his strong performance against Air Force on Jan. 11 — may be showing an ability to fill UNM’s vacant primary ball handler role in lieu of JJ Caldwell’s indefinite suspension.
The JaQuan Lyle Experience running the point in Caldwell’s absence has had mixed results. While Lyle leads the conference in assists, he touts a far more commanding lead in the turnover column. The fifth-year senior’s 87 turnovers on the season is an astounding 24 more than second-place Hunter Maldonado of Wyoming, who currently sits at 63 turnovers.
The gap between Lyle at first and Maldonado at second is the same as the gap between Maldonado and 15th-place Zach Chappell of San José State.
This margin was widened by Lyle’s 9-point, 8-turnover dud against CSU wherein he notched just a single assist: a first-half pass to Martin with UNM already facing a 15-point deficit.
With uncertainty surrounding the Lobos of late, one thing is clear: This team just isn’t the same since the departures of Bragg and Caldwell.
To make matters worse, senior Vance Jackson went down with an apparent knee injury in the first half and didn’t return to the game.
"I don't think anybody really knows exactly how this team is going to unfold ... I don’t know if there’s very many teams that can be down three starters and still have the initial expectation(s) everybody had," Weir said.
Though Jackson was present for second-half warmups, it was ultimately decided that he shouldn’t risk a more serious injury with the team already down 23 points after the opening frame.
"He obviously was checked out here and wasn’t probably comfortable enough. I just said it’s not worth it right now, to risk something," said Weir. "I’d like to get him looked at. Maybe an MRI to see where things are at to get kind of a clean bill of health before I throw him back out there."
With the loss, the Lobos dropped to 15-4 and go straight to Las Vegas to take on UNLV (10-9, 5-1 MW) with both teams jostling for second place position in the Mountain West on Saturday, Jan. 18.
Joe Rull is the multimedia editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @rulljoe