PHOTO: Fresno State’s Deshon Taylor (21) celebrates with his teammates on the bench after scoring and being fouled. Taylor was called for a technical foul on the play, but he had 20 points in the Bulldogs’ 82-70 win against UNM. (ESPN)
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
At least there is something to be said about consistency.
The New Mexico men’s basketball team lost 82-70 at Fresno State on Saturday night (Feb. 2), and there were plenty more of the same bugaboos that have played plagued the Lobos bubbles all season.
New Mexico (10-13, 3-6 MWC) lost for the sixth time in seven games, but actually played one of its best opening halves this year. UNM, however, still missed numerous layups in the opening 20 minutes and this time added an arsenal of 3-point bricks.
The Lobos were very strong defensively in the first half — much due to a Fresno State offense that wasn’t exactly flowing very well either — but as has been the case so very many times this season, the UNM defense completely crumbled in the second half.
Fresno State was able to use its one-on one-abilities to easily get the ball into the paint for layups and/or drawing fouls.
MATHIS ON AN ISLAND: Despite defenses stepping up to try and prevent Lobo senior Anthony Mathis from getting the ball, Mathis still was able to score a team high 19 points.
Again, Mathis had little help on offense — and he, like the rest of the team, continues to get burned defensively by guards driving past him.
Mathis was 6-of-13 from the floor — all of his shots coming from behind the arc. The rest of the team went a combined 16-of-56 from the field and an eye-popping 2-of-24 from 3-point range. That’s a grand total of 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) on 3-pointers.
Fresno State was also miserable from 3-point range (4-of-20) in what was just another frustrating and tough game to watch.
Vance Jackson added 16 points for New Mexico, but was 5-of-17 from the floor and 1-of-11 on 3s.
EARLY GAINS: New Mexico got out to leads of 16-7 and 19-11, the latter midway through the first half.
FSU (16-5, 7-2) used a 10-0 run to wipe out the UNM lead and go in front 21-19. The spurt was capped on a 3-pointer by Sam Bittner — which represented one of just two 3s the Bulldogs made in 11 first-half attempts.
The Lobos were 3-of-16 from 3-point land in the opening half, with Mathis hitting all three.
After the Fresno State run, New Mexico did a nice job of battling back to make the final seven minutes of the second half pretty entertaining, despite sloppy play by both teams. There were nine lead-changes and three ties in those final minutes of the half, which ended with Fresno State’s Deshon Taylor scoring on a three-point play with 3.9 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 35-33 lead st the break.
The Lobos stayed in the game for a while in the second half. It was 48-48 after a Mathis 3 with just more than 12 minutes left and Fresno had just a 54-53 lead with less than 10 minutes left after another 3 by Mathis.
But Fresno State soon did what so many other Lobo opponents have done this season, and simply drove to the paint to start pulling away.
FSU led 67-58, when senior guard Taylor took over. He scored all of his team’s points in what would have been an 8-0 run, except Taylor was called for a technical foul after celebrating with his teammates on the bench after a field goal
in which she was fouled.
Mathis made one free-throw on the technical before Taylor made his free throw in the seldom-seen situation, giving the Bulldogs a 75-59 cushion with four minutes remaining.
UNM was again pounded on the glass with the Bulldogs having a 51-38 margin in rebounding, but Fresnso State had more turnovers (15-10).
NO APOLOGY TOUR: Since November, I have heard a number of folks talk about, “The Lobo loss was a fluke. (Fill in the name of your choice) will never have another game like that.
On Saturday, it was another career outing for a Lobo opponent, this time it was the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-8 junior forward Nate Grimes who tied his season-high with 19 points and had a career-high 19 rebounds.
Grimes probably won’t have another game like that. However, he does play UNM again on Feb. 16, so who knows?
Former New Mexico State guard Braxton Huggins scored 22 points for Fresno State while Deshon Taylor added 20 as both made mincemeat of the UNM defense on drives to the hole.
ANOTHER LATE RUN?: As nearly all Lobo fans know, the team went on a seven-game winning streak late last season that didn’t end until it lost to San Diego State in the conference tournament title game.
The makings are there for another such run — at least schedule wise. UNM gets another game against woeful Wyoming (5-16, 1-7), the only team it has beaten in the past seven games, and gets two cracks against a typically-terrible San Jose State (3-18, 0-9) bunch.
The Lobos also play host to Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego State — teams with a combined 32-33 overall record.
But it’s best not to count on an 9-0 run to end the regular season. Besides the home game with Fresno State, there are road games at No. 8 Nevada (21-1, 8-1) and Utah State (17-5, 7-2).
Then again, the Lobos hammered Nevada the first go-around 85-58, so it should be no problem, right?
I will guarantee one thing; As the Lobos whip some of these cannon-fodder opponents down the stretch, we are going to keep hearing announcers tell us “You better watch out for these Lobos. They are not a team you want to see in the Mountain West Conference tournament.”
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state 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.