The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team lost what could have been a comeback in their game against California State University, Fresno (65-60) on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at The Pit. It was the Lobos first home game after a week on the road that saw them lose closely to two of the Mountain West Conference’s premier programs, Colorado State and Wyoming; while UNM was hoping to build on that momentum for their first conference win, the men did not succeed.
Fresno State entered the game 13-5 and 3-2 in conference play with a team built around the dominant Orlando Robinson, who, at 7 feet tall, posed a formidable threat against the undersized and undermanned Lobos. To counter this, UNM started two bigs: Sebastian Forsling and Jay Allen-Tovar.
However, about three minutes into the game, Robinson rolled his right ankle on a defensive possession and briefly left the game. Allen-Tovar and Forsling were suddenly not only undersized, but, by the 15-minute mark, Forsling had picked up one foul, Allen-Tovar had two and red-hot shooting for the Bulldogs — who made their first eight shots — prompted UNM head coach Richard Pitino to call his first timeout of the game.
With their two starting post players in foul trouble, the Lobos tried out 6-foot-7-inch Jordan Arroyo. However, Fresno State targeted the new matchup in the post and Robinson scored over Arroyo with a right-handed jump hook and tallied two assists. When Forsling reentered the game, Robinson showed that he could also dominate with his soft touch.
Now down 21-7, the Lobos desperately needed offense, but turnovers prevented them from scoring, and, with 11:49 left in the first half, Forsling picked up his second foul. To UNM’s benefit, Robinson did leave the game for the rest of the half.
The score was 26-9 when Jamal Mashburn Jr. managed to draw a shooting foul and made two of his three free throws, which he followed up with a fadeaway two off of a curl. Allen-Tovar hit another three, which cut Fresno’s lead to 30-16, while Forsling picked up his third personal foul and Arroyo reentered the game.
UNM gained some ground with bonus free throws and, with 4:48 left in the half, were only down 31-22. That’s when they broke out the small ball, with Arroyo at the five and Allen-Tovar and Forsling both out of the game. Although it didn’t work, it wasn’t a bloodbath.
UNM gave up 10 points and turned the ball over once, but they scored six points and forced Fresno State into three turnovers. They managed to keep Forsling and Allen-Tovar from getting in worse foul trouble and entered halftime down 41-26.
Robinson did not start the second half while the Lobos decided to start with Allen-Tovar surrounded by four guards: Mashburn, Jaelen House, K.J. Jenkins and Javonte Johnson. With this lineup, UNM had shooting at every position. It paid off for the first eight minutes of the half when UNM outscored the Bulldogs 12-7 and forced three turnovers.
UNM brought in Forsling when the Bulldogs unleashed 7-foot-1-inch Braxton Meah. The Lobos’ run continued as UNM seemed to finally settle into their pace, cutting the lead to 49-43.
Fresno State opted to try Robinson with 8:58 left in the game, but he struggled to dominate as he had earlier in the game. Foul trouble quickly became a problem for UNM around the 6:50 mark, when both Forsling and Jenkins picked up their fourth fouls and left the game. Suddenly, Robinson was facing a much smaller opponent in substitute Arroyo, but the Lobos did a solid job throwing rapid double teams at him to disrupt his flow.
With two minutes left in the game, the score was a close 61-56. The two teams traded buckets and free throws, eventually bringing the score to 63-60. Jenkins had an opportunity to tie following a missed free throw but missed the shot. Jenkins then picked up his fifth and final foul, and Bulldog Anthony Holland made both his free throws. Now down 65-60, the Lobo missed two threes and a tip before throwing the ball away.
The Lobos were in the bonus for the final 7:47 of the game. Head coach Richard Pitino said his team could have gotten to the line more during that time had they attacked the rim, which he told them directly as well.
“When you’re trying to build, it takes time and you almost have to ignore your record, as hard as it is,” Pitino said. “And you have to stay positive and stay focused on what it is that helps the team and helps you.”
The Lobos will play the other winless team in the conference, San José State University, at 7 p.m. today in The Pit.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy