Six Lobos scored in the game, and guards Jamal Mashburn Jr., Jaelen House, Taryn Todd and Javonté Johnson combined for all but 18 of the Lobos’ points.
The first half was chaotic and was more amiable towards Grambling State’s style of play, ending with UNM only up by four points at halftime. However, Grambling State is a turnover-prone team, and once UNM turned up the defensive pressure, they were able to force 10 turnovers in the second half. The Lobos scored 29 points off of turnovers total, and House was able to come up with an incredible eight steals.
The crowd at The Pit was engaged in the game from the start, and one fast break from UNM in the second half showed the best of what UNM can become in the rest of their season. Everything was there: Gethro Muscadin was disruptive at the basket, House pushed the ball and the small but smart plays that make Johnson and Todd valuable players for the Lobos were present. It included perfect spacing and the right level of aggression. UNM has been best this season when they run, and they can still become even better at it.
The Lobos’ rebounding woes were slightly mitigated against the smaller Grambling, only losing the rebounding battle 37-43. Johnson led the Lobos with 10 rebounds, followed closely by forward Gethro Muscadin, who grabbed eight. The Lobos’ big men struggled to rebound not because of size, but largely due to a lack of speed getting to the ball. After the game, head coach Richard Pitino said the coaching staff was very concerned about the team’s struggles to rebound, especially in this game.
Guard Saquan Singleton, who is currently out due to a heart abnormality, would certainly help with rebounding if he were to return. Pitino said Singleton is doing some non-contact drills at practice but had no updates about contact practicing or playing yet. Forwards Emmanuel Kuac and Valdir Manuel are also out, one with an injury and the other for disciplinary reasons, respectively.
“We’ve got to drill it better,” Pitino said. “We will get Saquan back at some point; we will get Eman(nuel Kuac) back at some point — that’ll help a little bit. But Grambling is not an overly big team.”
At times throughout the game, Grambling State attempted to change UNM’s pace by going into zone defenses in the half court and pressing full court. The zone was largely unsuccessful; Pitino inserted forward Jay Allen-Tovar and surrounded him with shooters to maximize the kickout and lob opportunities. In the second half, Pitino even pulled his perimeter players up above the free throw line to make cutting lanes behind the zone even more obvious to UNM’s ball handlers.
The press was slightly more effective, especially with House not playing then. UNM was sped up and got in some foul trouble with reserve guard K.J. Jenkins and, later in the game, Mashburn. House did a reasonably good job breaking the press and taking care of the ball in general, but too often he was left on an island without available release points. Five turnovers is still too much for a high level point guard — a fact that Pitino acknowledged.
“We just get casual with the ball,” Pitino said. “We’ve got a lot of good guards that just shouldn’t turn the ball over. House is a way better decision-maker than to turn it over five times.”
UNM will play again at The Pit on Saturday against Montana State University, a very capable rebounding team that put up 90 points against the University of Colorado Boulder last week. Montana State rebounds as a team, so UNM will have to get capable rebounding from everyone, their guards included.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy