BOISE, IDAHO — 2020 hasn't been kind to the Lobos, to say the least.
Sunday's 74-61 loss at Boise State (19-10, 11-6 MW) marked the University of New Mexico men's basketball team's 10th defeat since the start of the calendar year. It was the team's seventh loss in the last eight games.
After entering 2020 with an impressive 13-2 mark, the Lobos now sit at 17-12, locked in seventh place in the Mountain West.
Usual starters Zane Martin and Vante Hendrix, as well as guard Keith McGee, remained on the bench to start the game. Freshman guard Kurt Wegscheider started his first career game in Martin's stead. Forwards Jordan Arroyo and Emmanuel Kuac also saw extended minutes during Sunday's tilt. Both players have spent the season in reserve roles.
UNM head coach Paul Weir credited the change to a coaching decision, telling the Albuquerque Journal postgame that it was due to a combination of things. Weir said he wanted to give other players playing time.
"We've ridden this lineup for a long time and this group of guys, and we just haven't been able to kind of get over the hump with them," Weir said.
The change came in the wake of reports that Hendrix and McGee were running extra laps at a Thursday practice for missing a team function that morning, while Martin was sent home for disciplinary reasons.
UNM's fresh-faced first-half lineup played hard to open the game, but a 17-5 Boise State run to end the first half gave them a 37-26 lead going into the break.
Despite a solid 19-point outing from Vance Jackson, UNM struggled to keep stride with the Broncos.
Boise State led by as many as 16 during the second half. While a UNM run cut the lead to 60-54 with just over 7 minutes remaining, Lobo shooters went cold from there, headlined by a five-minute stretch where UNM scored just 2 points. Boise State coasted to a double-digit victory, avenging their 80-78 loss to UNM in the Pit last December.
On Boise State's senior night, it was only fitting that senior forward RJ Williams led the Broncos to victory. In his final home game, Williams posted a monstrous 27-point, 17-rebound stat line, respectively meeting and exceeding his career highs in each category.
Without an interior defensive presence, Weir noted that the suspension of senior forward Carlton Bragg gave Williams a green light in the post.
"It was a little depressing to watch," Weir said after the game. "When I watched it, we had a match-up (Bragg) there and obviously took him out of (the first game against Boise State), and I thought it was the difference in the game. Tonight, we just (didn't) have an interior player that matches up very well with him really at either end of the floor."
As has been the case since Bragg's suspension, UNM again struggled to establish a presence on the boards, with Boise out-rebounding the Lobos at a 34-26 clip.
"I told the guys after the game if we rebounded the ball, we could have won tonight," Weir said.
After the game, Weir suggested that the lineup changes may be here to stay, with UNM "doing something different to see if we can catch a little bit of energy, because the guys are a little bit down. It has been a long run, a lot of losing, it's added up. Maybe just some new blood — hopefully — can kind of give us some spark here down the stretch."
"It's been a really hard two months. I can't pretend it hasn't — I don't think they can pretend that it hasn't been," Weir said.
UNM will look to finish the season on a higher note, taking on Air Force on Wednesday before returning to the Pit for the final game of the regular season against Utah State on Saturday, Feb. 29.
Joe Rull is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rulljoe