By Reuben Valles
For Enchantments Sports
NORTHRIDGE, Cal. — University of New Mexico senior Anthony Mathis took an inbounds pass in the backcourt with six seconds left in a tie game, raced past midcourt and banked in a 30-foot 3-pointer with less than one second remaining to give the Lobos a dramatic 87-84 road win against Cal State-Northridge in the season opener for both teams.
The Lobos were 14-point favorites but struggled much of the evening and couldn’t shake the Matadors and first-year coach Mark Gottfried until the very end. UNM had to come back from six-point and seven-point deficits in the first half.
But in the end, Chapter 2 of the Paul Weir-era is under way with a stirring victory.
“Quite honestly, as frustrated as I may have been in certain elements of the game, I really can’t ask for anything more,” Weir said. “With all our new faces and (so many things we did wrong), as ugly as it could have been, to find a way to win — hopefully, it will be an amazing teachable moment from here.”
As for the final play, Weir said, “When we get into those situations, we really don’t have specific plays. We just try to get into spots to make plays …. (Mathis) just made a play on his own.”
The Lobos return four players from last season’s breakout team — including Mathis and fellow senior Dane Kuiper — which advanced to the Mountain West Championship game for the first time since 2014. Mathis finished fourth in the nation last season in 3-point shooting percentage (47.3 percent). Kuiper started 26 games last season and led the team in that category.
The Matadors are young, but return four letter winners from last season including last season Big West Freshman of the Year, Terrell Gomez who averaged 11.7 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game and shot an impressive 46.1 percent from 3-point range.
The Lobos looked to have a few jitters in the opening moments as CSUN jumped to a 6-0 lead while New Mexico was committing unforced turnovers and missing shots. New Mexico got on the scoreboard with a couple of Vladimir Pinchuk free throws at the 17:01 mark, but didn’t get its first field goal until 14:43 left in the first half on a Kuiper baseline jumper.
The shot got the Lobos rolling. and Kuiper struck just moments later by nailing a 3-pointer from the right side of the arc. Soon, New Mexico’s full-court press and stifling defense began to wreak havoc on Gottfried’s Matadors. Interestingly, former 1995 UCLA National Champion head coach Jim Harrick is also in his first season at CSUN as an assistant coach.
As the Matadors were struggling to find open looks, the Lobos also began to push the pace to a speed CSUN appeared uncomfortable playing. In all, UNM went on a 16-2 run to lead 16-8.
But the Matadors came back via the long ball. They hit seven 3-pointers in the first half and led 42-35 late in the half, and the small but raucous crowd at The Matadome (capacity 2000) was in full effect. The 5-foot-8 Gomez was the smallest man on the court, but he was electric with four 3-pointers in the first half. The Matadors went 7-of-12 from long range in the half.
But the Lobos showed poise, and got their own excitement going with a 7-0 run to close out the first half and tie the game at 42.
New Mexico went 12-of-24 shooting for 50 percent (41.7 percent from behind the arc) in the half and CSUN was 17-of-36 for 47.2 percent, including 58.3 percent from 3-point distance.
Gomez was able to consistently get himself open with hard work and led all scorers with 16 points in the first half. Freshman sensation Larmine Diane, a 6-7 forward from Senegal, had nine points at the half for the Matadors before going on a dunk-fest in the second half. He finished with a game-high 34 points.
“CSUN had the best two players on the court,” Weir said, referring to Gomez and Diane. “But New Mexico had the best 3-through-10, and the Lobos grinded it out.”
The young Matadors had plenty of opportunities in the second half, but missed a number of open looks and never hit another 3.
A steal by UNM’s Vance Jackson and a Kuiper 3 early in the second half led to a quick New Mexico lead at 19:40, 45-42. Another 3 pointer by Kuiper, after he intercepted a pass and dribbled down court to the right side of the arc, had the Lobos up 50-44 at 17 minutes.
The early moments of the second half saw both squads struggle for consistency with multiple steals from both teams. The Lobos began to heat up from behind the arc, hitting three straight, and they led 53-48 going into the first media timeout at 15:15.
The pace of play seemed to get quicker than one would expect this early in the season, and with multiple steals going the way of both teams the arena was electric. A put-back dunk at the 12:45 mark led to CSUNs first lead of the second half 54-53 — and Weir called his first timeout for a Lobo reset.
A pair of free throws by UNM’s Corey Manigault, who was fouled while taking the ball to the rim with force, put the Lobos up 55-54 with 11:58 left.
Manigault again was fouled while going strong to the hoop shortly after, and again connected on both his free throws. And when he scored on a field goal, the Lobos stretched the lead to 63-58 at the 10-minute mark.
New Mexico’s Makuach Maluach got into the fold with a three-point play on a drive, and the Lobos were taking control up 66-59.
But the pace of play slowed in the second half as the whistles were blown 19 times during the up-and-down tense affair. And when Diane had back-to-back dunks, UNM’s lead was down to 69-66 with 7:26 left.
Gomez finally got on the scoreboard in the second half with a driving bucket and free throw after he was fouled. New Mexico did a better job on Gomez in the second half, but a Matador free throw and beautiful reverse dunk by Diane had CSUN up 75-72 with just more than five minutes left.
Two free throws by the hard-working Manigault got the Lobos within 77-76 and a free throw by Jackson tied it at 77-all with just under four minutes remaining. The Lobos continued to roll, and when Jackson hit a 3-point bomb New Mexico was up by five.
But while the Matadors cooled off from 3-point range, they remained scrappy and were still within 82-80 with 1:32 left.
Maluach scored on a layup to give UNM an 84-80 lead with 34 seconds left, but the Matadors scored four seconds later, then forced a turnover by Jackson with their full-court press. Diane hit a jumper to tie it 84-84 with six seconds left and it was absolute bedlam as the Lobos took a time out.
But Mathis wasn’t about to let this get to overtime. He took the inbounds and quickly brought the ball up the right side of the court. With a Matador in his face, he pulled up from about 30 feet.
For the night, New Mexico shot 27 of 52 (51.9 percent) and 11 of 26 from behind the arc (42.3 percent) while CSUN hit 33 of 72 (45.8 percent) and was 0-for-8 in the second half on 3s.
Manigault led the Lobos with 16 points while Kuiper and Maluach each had 15. Mathis had 12 points. Diane was 15-of-28 from the floor on the way to his game-high 34 points. Gomez finished with 21.
Freshman Michael Ou, a 6-9 post from Albuquerque Menaul and a starter for the Matadors, had six points and three rebounds. He was 3-for-5 from the floor.
Next up, the Lobos have an exhibition game Saturday (Nov. 10) against Northern New Mexico in the Pit. Game time is 7 p.m. and you can bet Enchantment Sports will be here with all your Lobo hoopla.
Dr. Reuben Valles is a Cibola High and University of New Mexico graduate who practices medicine in Los Angeles and is a contributor to Enchantment Sports. To reach Reuben, email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.