PHOTO: Many fans waited until the bitter end of New Mexico’s 98-94 loss to New Mexico State at Dreamstyle Arena — The Pit on Saturday. Those who did, got to see the final 70 seconds last 15 minutes. That’s college basketball these days. (Courtesy/LoboSportsPhotos.com)
Editor in Chief
Even if you don’t have a wager on the line, the last few minutes of a college basketball game can be downright hand-ringing – and flat-out-annoying.
I guess the same could be said for the NBA, but I wouldn’t know. I’d rather watch a dog taking a nap.
The flat-out annoying part the final minutes of college games comes from the incessant clock stoppage.
Example: Saturday’s 98-94 New Mexico State road win at New Mexico. It ended up with a thrilling final minute. Sort of. It sure was a looooong one.
Just like most college games these days, if one team trails by double digits – as UNM did nearly the entire second half – and it comes down to the final minutes, you have two choices:
(1) Follow the herd heading for the exits.
(2) Get as comfortable as you can in your seat, because it’s going to be a while.
Neither choice is a good one in the sardine can of a Pit. You ever try to excuse yourself down a crowded row? It is like running a gauntlet.
But at least there are those roomy cushioned chairs, enhanced by the outstanding 2010 renovation. Yes, my tongue is firmly in my right cheek.
OK, apologies for taking so long to get to the point. But, in reality, that is the point.
Let’s go back to the Lobo-Aggie game. NMSU, led by as many as 19 points with less than nine minutes remaining and remained in control. UNM couldn’t stop NMSU guards AJ Harris or Terrell Brown by doing anything but fouling, thus the foul count looked out-of-whack. For a while.
So the Lobos got physical on offense, and when they didn’t have an open 3, they lowered their shoulders and drove into an Aggie body. The closer the scoreboard got, the more the Pit crowd intimidated the officials into calling fouls for the home team. Then if really went into slow-motion.
With 1:10 left, NMSU led 92-82 as UNM’s Anthony Mathis went to the line. Pretty much finished, right?
Well, if you had a 7 p.m. dinner reservation at El Pinto, it probably was a smart move to push it back to 7:30. I kid you not.
That last 1:10? It took nearly 15 minutes.
Fouls and bricked free throws can literally stop time. For a while, it felt like starring at a clock near the end of your work shift, but the clock is seemingly running backwards.
Hey, credit to the Lobos for doing the only thing possible they could have done to have a chance. And if not for turning it over with 8 seconds remaining and down 96-94, UNM may very well have pulled off the miracle comeback.
I have no problem with what UNM did. They played well within the rules. The very boring rules that have turned many a crisp, well-played game into dull foul shooting-parades at the end.
So what’s the answer?
It needs to be discussed. And I’d love to hear suggestions if any fans have ideas, but remember, I’m not on the NCAA rules committee.
To me, something as simple as two free throws, or even one, and possession after a defensive foul in the last minute wouldn’t hurt.
As is, however, the end of many college hoop games are the closest to a penalty shootout in soccer.
At least I think so.
But like the NBA, I really wouldn’t know about that.
Aside from the dismal defense and lack of intensity, was the Lobos looking to be the more worn-out team on Saturday. And I’m not just talking about hustle plays and diving for loose balls.
On way too many shots, the Lobos missed open looks off the front of the rim. They missed a number of free throws the same way.
Grazing the front of the rim is a sign of legs wearing down and fatigue. That’s a common site in the Pit – but by the visiting team, which is not used to playing 40 minutes at 5,200 feet.
The Lobos looked shell-shocked much of the night, lacked intensity and looked like they were sputtering with empty tanks in the pits. On Saturday against UTEP, any guesses about a total about-face?
I have no doubt we’ll see one.
So Happy Thanksgiving guys. I’m assuming you will have some massive appetites on Thursday after the conditioning work this week.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the New Mexico’s most decorated sports journalists in history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.