The University of New Mexico men's basketball team lost to the 22nd-ranked San Diego State Aztecs 73-71 via buzzer-beater on Saturday, Feb. 25.
The Lobos fell to 7-9 in conference play after the loss. It is now unlikely the Lobos will receive an invite to March Madness. The only path to the NCAA tournament is to win the Mountain West conference tournament. The Lobos may have a losing record in conference play, but they were very competitive in all of their losses; this is a team that could learn from adversity and apply that to the tournament.
The Lobos were out-rebounded 41-30 which led to extra possessions for the Aztecs — enough to push them over the edge with a Lamont Butler buzzer-beater from the 3-point line.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. led the team in scoring with 20 points. Jaelen House had a full stat sheet with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Morris Udeze had a near double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds.
For the Aztecs, Darrion Trammell led the team in scoring with 18 points. Matt Bradley gave the Lobos trouble early, scoring 9 of his 11 in the first half. Butler had 10 points and made the most important shot of the game: a 3-point buzzer-beater.
Nathan Mensah scored the first points of the game with a jump shot, but Udeze responded with a layup. Mensah got open for a dunk and his teammate Bradley made a mid-range jump shot. UNM was down early; the score was 8-2 at the first media timeout with 15:36 left in the first half.
House made a 3-pointer out of the timeout. To combat the Aztecs' size, Birima Seck was put into the game and immediately made an impact with a score off of a miss. On the next possession, KJ Jenkins made a 3-pointer and then scored a layup off of a steal. The Lobos bench battled back, but the team was still down 13-12 at the second media timeout.
Lobo Javonté Johnson took the lead with a 3-pointer, and Donovan Dent drove to the basket for a layup. Josiah Allick spun around his defender and made a tough jump shot. The Lobos were up 19-18 with 7:19 left in the half.
House cut to the basket and Mashburn passed him the ball for an easy layup, but Bradley made a tough jump shot over his defender. Mashburn made a 3-pointer and on defense the team forced a shot clock violation. Jenkins scored a 3-pointer that was followed by Udeze free throws and a Mashburn jump shot to make a 7-0 run which forced San Diego to call a timeout down 37-26 with 52.3 left in the half.
The Lobos were up 37-27 at the end of the first half. UNM's bench scored 15 points which jump started the offense. Toward the end of the half, the defense from the Lobos locked in, forcing nine turnovers.
Mashburn made a free throw to start the second half. After a Mashburn jump shot, San Diego’s Mensah used his size to score a jump shot over Udeze, but Udeze got his revenge on the other side of the court which forced Mensah into his third foul of the game. Udeze then made both free throws. The Lobos held on to their lead; they were up 44-34 at the media timeout with 15:47 left in the game.
The Aztecs offense came back to life and scored on three straight possessions, but House scored a 3-pointer and Mashburn was fouled on a made jump shot. He made his free throw to put the Lobos back up by double digits.
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Udeze worked in the paint for a layup. Aguek Arop scored a layup and Micah Parrish made a jump shot to cut into the Lobos lead. The Lobos were up 56-51 with 7:43 left in the game.
Out of the timeout, Trammell and Keshad Johnson had back-to-back 3-pointers. Arop took the lead for the Aztecs, and UNM called a timeout down 59-58 with 5:45 left in the game.
Mashburn drove to the basket and scored a layup with the shot clock as it expired. Udeze made a pair of free throws to tie the game. Trammell made a 3-pointer to give the Aztecs the lead. UNM called a timeout down 67-64.
Out of the timeout, Mashburn was fouled and he made both free throws to put the Lobos down 1. Parrish made a 3-pointer, but the Lobos quickly ran up the floor. Mashburn was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws. The Lobos forced a turnover on the inbounds, and House drove to the basket to take the lead 71-70 with 6 seconds left in the game. Butler ran up the court and hit a buzzer beater to win the game 73-71.
After the game, Richard Pitino was pleased with his team's performance and, despite the loss, the team can grow and learn from this.
"Great basketball game. Unfortunately, when you coach and play, there has to be a loser. Unfortunately, they made one more play then we did. Our effort was amazing, the crowd was phenomenal,” Pitino said. “Every time I coach in this building when it's packed, I hate having them leave with a loss. But with that being said, we're building something special: I truly believe it. We've done some amazing things in year two. We're going to continue to learn and grow and build, but that was a tough one.”
After the game Jenkins was disappointed by the loss, but was already looking ahead to the next game.
"It was devastating for sure because we really needed this for us to get solidified into the tournament. It would have really given us another good chance,” Jenkins said. “It's devastating, but we'll flush it and move on.”
The Lobos have their final home game of the season on Tuesday, Feb. 28 against Fresno State University.
Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thomasbulger10