The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team lost in a frenzied overtime to Utah State University 87-90 Saturday at The Pit. The Lobos were without their head coach Richard Pitino who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier that day.
UNM outscored the Aggies 42-27 in the first half and shot 51.7% from the field and a scorching 10-15 from three-point range. The hot shooting was mainly the result of the Lobos’ willing ball movement, which acting head coach Eric Brown said had been a focus in the week of practices leading up to Saturday’s game. UNM tallied 12 assists in the first half alone.
The Lobos played solid defense in the first half, and Utah State struggled to make shots. Javonté Johnson and Jay Allen-Tovar did a solid job defending Aggie star Justin Bean and the Lobos managed to out-rebound their opponent 18-14.
The second half was a different story for both teams. UNM struggled to defend in transition and allowed Utah State to score 13 fastbreak points. In the halfcourt, Utah State was able to drive easily into the paint, and too often they were uncontested once they reached the basket.
Offensively, UNM leaned heavily on Jamal Mashburn Jr., who scored 14 points and dished out four assists, but Utah State was able to disrupt the fluid ball movement that UNM had shown in the first half by employing multiple defenses. Brown said after the game that these defenses were able to take away the Lobos’ rhythm in the second half.
“I think we took some quick shots,” Brown said. “I thought we had a couple of offensive possessions that got away from us in the second half.”
Emmanuel Kuac was forced to come out of the game due to an injury with 3:14 left in the second half. Kuac immediately began hopping on his right foot to avoid putting any weight on his left. This injury came in his first start of the season, and this season had already been shortened by a previous injury. An announcement was made Sunday, Jan. 9 that Kuac had surgery on his lower left leg and will miss the remainder of the Lobos’ season.
It was a tight game from then on until the end of regulation; neither team ever led by more than three. A pair of free throws from Trevin Dorius put Utah State up 73-74 with one minute left.
UNM guard Jaelen House missed a three-point attempt and then fouled Utah State’s Steven Ashworth. UNM called a timeout and substituted in sharpshooter K.J. Jenkins before Ashworth managed to make both of his free throws, putting the Aggies up 73-76 with only 15 seconds left.
UNM was able to respond with a House three, assisted by Mashburn, tying the score 76-76. With only three seconds left, Utah State hastened to get the ball inbounds and managed to bank in what would have been the game-winning half-court shot; however, they had missed that UNM had managed to call timeout just before so it didn’t count.
Out of the timeout, Utah State needed to perform their second miracle in a row to win the game. They heaved the ball to Bean, who had to elevate high next to the bench sideline at halfcourt. With no chance to get a shot off, he managed to land on one inbounds foot before stepping out. UNM fans felt certain that a turnover had been committed, but quickly became outraged when the officiating crew determined that Utah State had called a timeout before Bean’s foot went out of bounds. After the timeout, Utah State looked to Bean again, who missed as time ran out.
The two teams traded baskets in the overtime period, and again the game came down to its closing seconds. House fouled out with 1:01 left in the period. At 0:59, down 84-86, the Lobos got the rebound and went looking to tie the game.
Utah State managed to clamp down defensively and forced a shot-clock violation on the Lobos. Ashworth was then fouled and made two free throws, putting Utah State up 84-88.
Mashburn drove in quickly and scored an and-1, but with only eight seconds left, UNM’s chances to tie the game were bleak. All they could do was foul, and the game ended as a Utah State victory, 87-90.
UNM was able to control the game when they moved the ball and didn’t force shots. The epitome of this was Johnson, who played within the offense and finished with 23 points and seven threes. UNM’s offense was a big step up from their struggles and recent loss against the University of Nevada, Reno.
The team will get a chance to improve against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas out of state on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy