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Floundering Lobos lose again, beaten 75-65 by Penn

December 23, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE — Blame it on burritos, or maybe the struggles of mastering a 10-foot entry pass.

Or, if you’re so inclined, put the onus on sleepless nights in the office combined with the stark realization that social media is the poisoned well that potentially doomed a team’s chemistry.

Whatever it is, it ain’t good.

The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team continued to flounder through its nonconference schedule Saturday afternoon, losing at home to Penn, 75-65. It’s UNM’s fifth loss in six games and drops the Lobos to 5-6 with one game remaining before the Mountain West Conference opener Jan. 2.

“Every loose ball is the difference for us,” UNM head coach Paul Weir said. “We’re not 12-point favorites in this game. We’re not, and trying to convey to these young men the urgency of every single possession is something that I’m trying to do every single time we’re out there.”

Saturday’s game, as usual, showed just how wide the chasm is between the team’s available talent and its actual execution. The Lobos gave up a 14-4 run to end the game, shooting just 29 percent from the field in the second half, missing 13 of 23 free throws for the game and turning the ball over 15 times.

Through it all was more of the same issues in the low post.

The Quakers (10-2) scored 38 points in the paint and equaled the Lobos’ number in rebounds.

New Mexico’s latest addition, 6-foot-10 center Carlton Bragg, attempted just one shot in the first half and was largely a nonfactor until he came to life in the final 15 minutes. Bragg, power forward Corey Manigault and point guard Anthony Mathis each finished with 13 points, but Mathis went the entire second half without scoring while Manigault continued to struggle on defense.

Mathis was a question mark for Saturday’s game. He was already dealing with a foot injury when he made a Friday night run to Chipotle, a trip that left him with food poisoning.

“Last night about 2:30, I was — there’s no way I would have played,” Mathis said. “Woke up, didn’t feel too good [Saturday] morning and just fought it out and came in and just tried to get the win with my teammates tonight, but it will definitely be the last time we eat Chipotle, for sure.”

Penn started the game on a 19-4 run. The Lobos had several ugly possessions end with turnovers or missed shots. That, and they went 0-for-6 from the free-throw line in the first eight minutes. The crowd fed on the rough stretch and sarcastically cheered when Mathis drained a pair of free throws to get the Lobos within 13.

It actually ignited a 25-7 run that put the Lobos in the lead for the first time. But every run was answered by one from the Quakers, the last coming in the final four minutes after Bragg and Manigault led the charge with high-energy play in the paint.

The task of actually getting them the ball has become the team’s latest sore spot. Weir said his guards have been lacking in quality play, particularly when dumping the ball into the low post. It seems a simple task but has become a troublesome issue that needs to be dealt with.

“It’s probably, unfortunately, us getting used to it,” Weir said. “We still kind of have some habits down there that I don’t love, but I thought there was progress there. I thought there was a much better approach to getting it in there from our perimeter players.”

The game screeched to a temporary halt in the final two minutes of the first half when Weir ran across the floor to argue a blocking call against Mathis. Weir was immediately assessed a technical and had to be restrained by Vance Jackson and assistant coach Chris Herriman.

“Obviously not the kind of behavior I intend to do, not something I’m proud of, but just the value in that moment of watching what I’m watching, it obviously got the best of me,” Weir said.

The issues began much earlier than that. As in, seven weeks earlier when the Lobos played Northern Arizona in a closed-door scrimmage before the season opener. That outing marked the start of Weir’s restless nature with this team.

Whereas last year’s club developed an unshakable work ethic to overcome its deficiencies, this year’s club has relied on its talent to get through.

“Up until the Northern Arizona scrimmage, [the players] read what everybody wrote about us and seemed to think that wins were just going to happen,” Weir said. “The night of the Northern Arizona game, I got off social media. I slept in my office and I knew what I saw then was scary. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to put that same fear into our guys.”

GAME NOTES

There remains no timetable on the return of Lobos shooting guard Dane Kuiper. The senior has missed the last two games due to tendinitis in his knees, as well as other minor ailments. Weir said Kuiper hasn’t shown the kind of improvement both he and the medical staff had hoped for, so he remains a question mark moving forward. … Lobo guard Zane Martin transferred to UNM from Towson over the summer. His former team made headlines for all the wrong reasons Saturday in a game against La Salle when freshman Solomon Uyaelunmo dunked on his own basket. He took an inbounds pass and dribbled into his own vacated lane and threw it down for two points for La Salle. … The Lobos will not play in The Pit again until Jan. 5 when unbeaten and No. 6-ranked Nevada pays a visit. UNM heads to Hobbs Dec. 30 for its next game, then visits Air Force on Jan. 2 in the Mountain West opener. … Vance Jackson had 10 points in Saturday’s game, hitting on just 3 of his 9 shot attempts. He was one of six Lobos with at least two turnovers, although he matched Manigault with a team-high eight rebounds.

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