The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team lost in a heartbreaking fashion to their in-state rivals, the New Mexico State University Aggies, 78-76 in an overtime game on Monday at The Pit. The loss comes after the Lobos beat the Aggies in Las Cruces the previous Tuesday. UNM is now 5-4 so far this season.
The loss was especially tough for Lobos fans because of the improbable nature of the game-winning shot, which was a body-contorting reverse layup that NMSU guard Nate Pryor was able to get off of a cut. UNM’s Jaelen House, who was guarding Pryor, left him in order to provide his teammate Jamal Mashburn Jr. with help defense.
“Clearly (we) did not defend (the last shot) well,” head coach Richard Pitino said after the game. “(It was a) total miscue … We didn’t need to provide help, I thought Mash(burn) was good (without it). It is what it is; we’ll learn from it.”
Though the loss was certainly a disappointment for the Lobos, the first half was a good half for them, particularly defensively. The UNM bigs were able to keep NMSU’s two posts, Johnny McCants and Will McNair Jr., to just two points each, and UNM was within one rebound of the Aggies. Mashburn and House led the Lobos in scoring, with 10 and 11 points, respectively. UNM had four steals and five blocks as a team and the Lobos went into halftime with a 31-27 lead.
The first four and a half minutes of the second half saw that lead disappear as UNM got beat up the court and on rebounds continually. NMSU’s Teddy Allen scored with ease and ended up with 12 points in the second half. The Lobos needed the steadying play of Mashburn to guide them through, and he played magnificently, scoring 14 points and shooting 5-6 from the field and 3-3 from the free throw line.
Both teams traded buckets for the last 13 minutes and 24 seconds of the half. During that period, neither team led by more than four points.
Lobos starting forward Gethro Muscadin got in foul trouble and had to be taken out with 8:05 left in the half. However, backup Jay Allen-Tovar played physically, and UNM found themselves with the ball with the score tied 68-68 and 3.7 seconds left on the clock. House was able to get up the court in time, but his forced jump shot didn’t go and the game went to overtime.
House gave UNM fans a bit of a scare when he hopped off the court on one foot with 3:32 left in overtime, but he managed to return to the game and score five overtime points. Unfortunately, NMSU made one more good play than the Lobos did, pushing them over the edge to win.
UNM only shot 14-23 from the free throw line, and several of those attempts were the front ends of one-and-one opportunities. Saquan Singleton played tremendous defense off the bench.
Allen-Tovar showed both the best and most quixotic aspects of his offensive game. He’s a willing shooter, but not yet a consistent one, at least for the volume of outside shots that he takes. He missed all six of his three-point attempts against NMSU.
On the other hand, when Allen-Tovar attacks the basket, either off of drives or well-timed cuts, he is an explosive finisher. Even now, at a lean 217 pounds, he’s UNM’s best big at finishing through contact. If he were to shift his shot selection even just a bit more towards the rim, he’d become a dramatically better offensive weapon.
UNM guards are forced to fight for boards since UNM’s bigs are not yet capable rebounders by themselves, stopping them from leaking out and pushing the ball for fast break opportunities.
This particularly hurts House, who is often the fastest player on the court and has a stop-and-start style that would make him an adept fast-break point guard.
Javonté Johnson and Taryn Todd would also benefit from more fast-break opportunities, since opposing teams are beginning to clue in to the fact that they can be played off of in the halfcourt. Muscadin and Allen-Tovar are starting to show improvements in their physicality, so perhaps running will become more of an option later in the season.
The Lobos will have a good opportunity to win their next game at home against the University of Denver on Thursday, who are coming off of a four-game losing streak and are similar to the Lobos in style, mostly relying on their guards K.J. Hunt and Jordan Johnson.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy