Photo: UNM coach Paul Weir tries to find answers during his team’s 89-82 loss at hapless San José State on Tuesday.
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Just when it seemed there was nowhere else to fall, the New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team found a new basement.
And it dove into it head first.
On Tuesday, the Lobos did what many thought unthinkable. They lost 89-82 at San José State in what has to rank as one of the worst setbacks in program history.
The Spartans entered the evening on a 17-game losing streak and second-year head coach Jean Prioleau was 7-49. They have established themselves as one of the very worst programs in the country for nearly a decade and haven’t had a winning season since 2010-11.
The Spartans are still alone on the bottom of a very mediocre Mountain West Conference with just a little more than a week left in the regular season.
But they now have a league win — and a partner in misery.
Tuesday’s Albuquerque Journal sketched out a scenario in which the Lobos could finish with the No. 6 seed — yippee — for next month’s Mountain West Conference tournament. That would lead to a matchup with the dismal Spartans in one of the three March 13 stay-in games before the league’s top five teams hit the court on March 14 in Las Vegas.
That scenario is still possible. At least, San Jose State hopes so.
The Spartans (4-23, 1-14 MWC) — 12.5-point underdogs — erased a 30-24 deficit in the first half, took a 47-44 halftime lead then opened the second period with a 9-0 run and never looked back in one of the sloppiest, least energetic games on a college floor this season.
There was little new for New Mexico (11-16, 5-10). The Lobos were again horrendous on defense, again played like a bunch of street-ballers looking to get their own stats, again missed open layups and dunks, again showed tremendously low-basketball IQ and again were embarrassed in the second half of a game on the way to another head-scratching loss.
But this wasn’t like getting blown out at New Mexico State, Nevada, Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State etc.
This was a loss to San José State! In front of fewer fans than you’ll see on Sunday morning for a pick-up game at the Johnny Tapia Community Center at Wells Park.
And the Lobos played with the energy and efficiency of a team in a shirts-skins game at Wells.
Actually, I take that back. I played in games at Wells back in the day, and there was much more grit and fire to them than at The Event Center on Tuesday.
Man, how the Lobos could use the passion of a guy like the late Tapia.
If you are reading this, you probably saw the game. Thus, there is little you already don’t know about the game.
About what the heck is happening in this program is another story.
There is zero chemistry, heart, desire or chutzpah on this bunch. We have seen the same issues all season. But why?
And more importantly, why aren’t we hearing what is causing those issues?
Yes, the University of New Mexico has one of the least transparent athletic departments in the country. I get it. I learned it — many times over.
But the local media aren’t about to rock the boat and dig into what is really happening. I learned that as well. But I will never get it.
It’s late, and I’m just going to touch on that issue for now. I promise that I will visit that in more detail down the road.
In the meantime, this is the most dysfunctional team I have ever seen in Lobo uniforms — cherry, silver, white, turquoise, yellow or whatever. This season has been worse than the 2006-07 campaign that ended coach Ritchie McKay’s career in Loboville.
Even those final three years under Lobo coach and fan-site cohort Craig “Noodles” Neal don’t seem like quite as much of a train wreck these days.
Does that mean second-year Lobo coach Paul Weir is teetering on being ousted? I hope not, because I really like Weir and I’m not ashamed to say it. But who knows?
He’s the guy running the show, and he has said all season that the buck stops with him. But what about all the counterfeit on the floor?
Outside of sophomore point guard Keith McGee, who didn’t start but had 25 points and five assists, the Lobos were miserable from the outside. Senior guard Anthony Mathis and forward/guard Vance Jackson were a combined 2-of-23 from the floor. Former prep All-American Carlton Bragg, a 6-foot-10 junior forward, 6-9 junior Corey Manigault and 6-7 guard/forward Corey Manigault, were a combined 21-of-38 for a combined 48 points and 30 rebounds, but had nine turnovers as well as some bonehead plays and missed chip shots.
But the big men, as well as the guards, got blazed yet again on San José State drives, the inside scoring of 6-10 Michael Steadman (10-21, 21 points 11 rebounds) and outside bombs of guard sophomore guard Noah Baumann (8-of-12 3s for 26 points). The Spartans’ 6-11 junior Ashtin Chastain (3-of-4, 8 points, 5 rebounds) also had little trouble with the Lobos’ big bodies in the paint.
UNM again played a game of throw-away with 16 turnovers, but did rip the Spartans 53-37 on the boards.
The Lobos were supposed to be a MWC contender. And yes, I fell into the trap as well. I truly thought this team was capable of making a Sweet 16 run. Instead, it’s about to get run out of town.
I can’t imagine this group will stay in tact for next season. I do imagine that Lobo fans hope it doesn’t.
I also know that bringing in transfers is like buying a used car. Maybe, you can get a great deal on a Lexus because the previous owner couldn’t make payments. But maybe you are just buying somebody else’s headaches.
A player transfers for a reason. Maybe it was the previous coach, the school, the program, a girlfriend, bad grades or any number of reasons. But one thing’s for certain; there was an issue. Bring in a pile of transfers, and you are playing with fire.
A transfer wants to find a better situation for himself, right? Well, that can be a problem if a number of guys are looking to for a better situation individually — but still have to be part of a team.
The ninth-place Lobos still do play three of the other worst teams in the league to close the regular season — home against Colorado State (11-16, 6-8) and Boise State (11-16, 6-8) and at Wyoming (6-21, 2-12).
What’s that mean?
Just maybe, look out below.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for nearly five 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.