PHOTO: Utah State’s Abel Porter drained this game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to beat UNM 68-66 on Saturday. (Courtesy/LoboPhotoStore.com)
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Of course it was a bad call.
But the reaction from those trying to find a reason for New Mexico’s, thus far, underachieving men’s basketball season, has been worse.
When official Winston Stith called Lobo guard Anthony Mathis for an over-and-back violation with 38.9 seconds remaining in UNM’s 68-66 loss to Utah State on Saturday, nobody – save Mathis – uttered a word about it being a blown call.
The reaction, as you can see in photos and videos, was one of heartbreak, disgust and disappointment by Lobo players, coaches and fans.
But not anger.
Still, many are desperately reaching for reasons why the Lobos are 9-11 overall, 3-5 and in a mediocre Mountain West Conference and 5-6 in Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit.
That damn Winston! He’s the reason! We could be …uhh… well, .500.
WHY SO DOWN?: During the past couple of months, I’ve noted plenty of possibilities why a Lobo team picked to battle for the league title is alone in ninth place in the 11-team conference.
I’ve mentioned the little things. You know, like no point guard, no defense, little energy, questionable chemistry, soft rebounding and too many turnovers.
But somehow, I forgot “officiating.”
Folks, officiating isn’t on the list, because it will never be on the list.
Unless, of course, we’re talking about Game 6 the 2002 NBA Western Conference Final.
Even on Saturday, Stith’s blown call was just one of many reasons UNM lost. I wrote all about the call on Saturday, so I’m not going to rehash it. But you can read it here.
However, I really would like to know if the MWC is going to start issuing statements about every botched call in every league game from now on?
This wasn’t even a game-deciding play. It wasn’t as if someone should have been called for goaltending by blocking a last-second shot or ripping a guy’s arm off on a game-sealing steal.
Yes, I know you can replay those in the final minute. But there are reasons:
Like actually deciding a game.
As everyone knows, replay – by rule – wasn’t allowed on Saturday’s controversial play.
The Lobos had plenty of opportunities to win the game well before the over-and-back call – and they even had a good opportunity after the call.
Missing your first nine 3-pointers on the way to an 8-for-24 game (33.3 percent) and shooting 39.0 percent from the floor (23–59), getting outrebounded and having more turnovers just might have come into play, don’t ya think?
And let’s remember, the Lobos still led 66-65 with those 38.9 seconds remaining. The Aggies (15-5, 5-2) almost assuredly would have gotten the ball back, and probably with a chance to win it or tie, regardless what the turnover-prone Lobos would have done with the possession they weren’t allowed.
It’s not like we’ve seen many clutch baskets in the final seconds from the Lobos this year. And even more than that, there is always that other part of the game UNM has struggled with all season.
One defensive stop, and it’s a Lobo win.
UNM didn’t make that stop. And again, I can’t help but ask; what was Makuach Maluach doing on Abel Porter’s 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining?
Did Stith set a pick on him?
UNM coach Paul Weir’s compared Stith’s call to the no-call that, in all likelihood, cost New Orleans Saints a spot in the upcoming Super Bowl. He made the comments In his post-game presser and again on his postgame radio interview.
My phone blew up from friends who couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
“I thought I was listening to Noodles,” a prominent media friend of mine texted me, referring to former coach Craig “Noodles” Neal, who left UNM with more excuses than victories.
I get it. We live in a town lacking major pro sports and have thousands upon thousands of Lobo basketball fans — as well as media members who act like fans. But playing the ref-excuse card is whining at its utmost, even when the local home boys chime in.
When Journalism actually was, any media using “us” or “they” when asking questions or openly rooting out loud before, during and even after games, were horrific no-no’s.
In Albuquerque, it’s basically become the expectation.
If UNM loses, many want to hear and read about how their Lobos got robbed. And we certainly have the media to help. And not just the reporters.
I just might know a thing about that firsthand.
So I wasn’t shocked seeing UNM folk and some media members scrambling to get verification that Stith’s call was incorrect, so they could list that as the reason the Lobos lost.
It was like CNN chasing a tip that Trump robbed his own hotel. At least the local crew actually did get verification before (I think) running stories.
The replay showed the blunder – but it was a blunder that even the TV announcers didn’t see until part-way through the slow-mo.
Now the blown call has been blown way, way out of proportion.
I was asked that very question today by a media member, who likes the truth to be part of a story. He asked me what I thought the Lobos’ chances of winning would have been, had that over-and-back violation call not been made. I said about 55 percent. Then he asked who I thought would have been favored to win after the call. I said, “Still the Lobos, Probably about 52-to-48 percent. They had the lead.”
Turns out, I was pretty darn close.
On Sunday, KQTM (101.7) Radio’s Andy Swanson did something that hadn’t occurred to me to do. He went to ESPN.com’s Gamecast of the USU-UNM contest to see what the computer listed for percentages of winning the game as it was being played. Brilliant idea,
ESPN Gamecast updates each play and the probability of each team winning from that point. According to what ESPN had and 101.7 tweeted, the Lobos were given a 54.2 percent chance of winning the game just before the controversial turnover.
It only changed a touch, to 53.5 after the turnover. And I can’t argue.
Think about it? What’s the percentage a road team is going to win on a last-possession — almost always going for the last shot — when it trails 66-65? I’m gonna say the road team only wins 46.5 percent of the time in that situation.
A follow up to our previous tweet on the Lobos’ win probability before and after the Mathis turnover. You can see the full game data here: https://t.co/pkF8iLNYDa
— ESPN Albuquerque 101.7FM The TEAM (@1017theteam) January 28, 2019
ESPN uses a computer program that predicts the outcome based on analytics from thousands of games.
It’s not based on folks who refuse to look at situation analytically.
In other words, the Lobos still had just about the same chance of winning, even after the blown call. The computer knows there are endless scenarios that still could have played out.
In fact, the Lobos had a much better chance of winning – more than 70 percent, according to ESPN Gamecast – when UNM’s Carlton Bragg stepped to the foul line for a 1-and-1 with 1:39 remaining and the Lobos leading 66-64.
Bragg had a heckuva game, leading the Lobos with 18 points and six rebounds. He was 6-of-6 from the line to that point.
But Bragg, after an official monitor review of an injury timeout, then a timeout by UNM – altogether spanning seven minutes of actual time – missed the front end of the 1-and-1. He could have made it 68-64.
Bragg also clanked a short jump-hook on the possession before “The Call.” Had he scored, the Lobos would have led 68-65 with 57 seconds left.
Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
Players miss shots.
Officials miss calls.
Did Stith’s blown call hurt New Mexico’s chances of victory?
Was it the single difference in the outcome?
If you answer “yes” to that one, you are either a hard-core fan wearing cherry-colored glasses, you are an employee of the university or you are trying to start a career in radio play-by-play.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in the state’s 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.