It was over before it started.
But just to make sure, San Diego State helped themselves to 17 straight points to open Wednesday night’s matchup with the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team at the Pit. On a night when No. 4-ranked SDSU (22-0, 11-0 MW) was firing on all cylinders, UNM (16-7, 5-5 MW) was anything but.
“I thought that opening three minutes for San Diego State was the most impressive I’ve ever gone up against (from) another team in my four years as a head coach ... You have to play the perfect game to get this one, and we, unfortunately, we're far from it,” UNM head coach Paul Weir said after the loss.
A barrage of 3-pointers was a welcome change for the Aztecs, who came into the night second to last in the conference in 3-point attempts — just ahead of the Lobos.
Led by an 18-point outburst on 6-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc by senior guard KJ Feagin, SDSU shot an efficient 32-for-55 , including a season-high in both threes attempted (33) and made (15). Meanwhile, a lackluster 22-for-65 shooting outing from UNM saw an abysmal 4-for-23 effort from distance.
UNM was unable to find a rhythm against SDSU’s elite defense, which ranks among the best in the nation in points allowed, particularly when finding themselves at such a large deficit after failing to score for the first 4:44 of game time.
“Had we just calmed down a little bit, I think the game would’ve went a lot better,” junior guard Keith McGee said.
The game tipped before a reported crowd of over 13,000, though the stands were about half as full by the game’s final buzzer. Any momentum gained by the Lobos by locking stride with SDSU in the latter part of the opening frame was quickly erased by a 17-5 Aztec run to start the second half, and SDSU cruised to an 85-57 victory.
The win marked 22 straight for SDSU as the Aztecs extended its school-record winning streak and preserved its spot as the nation’s lone undefeated team. Conversely, the loss is UNM’s first at home this season and its fourth loss by at least 20 points in the last five games.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, it was announced that senior guard JaQuan Lyle would be suspended for two games following an incident wherein a female UNM student-athlete was shot in the leg at a party hosted by Lyle early Sunday morning. With this, Lyle became UNM’s third opening day starter to get suspended this season, joining Carlton Bragg (removed from the program following a DWI arrest) and JJ Caldwell (suspended indefinitely).
After a promising 13-2 start to the season, a series of off-court issues have plagued UNM, with Lyle’s suspension being the latest in a long line of Lobo controversies. Now having lost five of the last eight games, Weir noted that UNM’s fortunate start to the season may have become a distraction for his team.
“We didn’t handle winning very well,” Weir said. “I think Lobo basketball players in this community are of a certain stature and status, and when we got to 12-2 — quite frankly (the controversies) didn’t happen last year, this didn’t happen the year before, and it didn’t happen when the season started. It happened when we won a lot and the celebrity status came with it.”
Weir expressed his remorse regarding what seems now to be a once-promising season falling by the wayside.
“I’ve never had a curfew in my career,” Weir said. “I’ve never done one, I’ve never been on a team that had one, but maybe this team needed one. This team, given how much we were winning, and the stuff that came with that, that’s what I look back on and regret to an extent.”
For UNM, sophomore Jordan Arroyo’s performance marked one of few positive takeaways. In a career-high 20 minutes, the hometown forward recorded a career-high 7 rebounds.
“I feel blessed every time that I get to step out on that court,” Arroyo said. “I never thought I would be playing collegiate basketball ever, even after my senior year (of high school at Albuquerque’s Atrisco Heritage High School). So I just feel extremely blessed to be in this position.”
Looking forward, the unbeaten Aztecs will continue their conference slate at home against Utah State on Saturday, while a shorthanded Lobo squad travels to California to take on Fresno State.
Joe Rull is the multimedia editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rulljoe