Sloppy play still ends with Lobos win
ALBUQUERQUE — It took Paul Weir all of 27 seconds to drop into a catcher’s crouch, bury his face in his hands and start to vigorously rub the stress away.
It came after a missed 3-point try at one end for his guys, a quick outlet and a 3 at the other end for the other team.
It was that kind of night for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team during its regular season home opener in The Pit.
Sure, the Lobos managed to pull away late and beat Iona, 90-83, to improve to 2-0 heading into Saturday’s first installment of the Rio Grande Rivalry, but they missed 14 free throws, committed 20 turnovers and misfired on 18 shots from 3-point range. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win and Weir had to admit that it was worth it.
He said he had just come out of a postgame staff meeting skulking around like a coach whose team had lost every game it had played. It took one of his assistants to remind him that they’d won both regular season games, the exhibition it had last weekend and a scrimmage the week before.
What got to him, he said, wasn’t the end result. It was the legwork between the buzzers that irked him.
“I think these kids play so many video games or just live in this culture where, you know, you get to press reset, you get to play again,” Weir said. “Then it’s like guys, you know, one little mistake, it’s going to be the difference, so I’ve been much harder on this team than I was ever on last year’s team. Just trying to impress upon them the value of every single possession.”
Five Lobos finished in double figures, including 18 points apiece from newcomers Vance Jackson and Corey Manigault. Jackson puled down a game-high 12 rebounds while Manigault drew eight fouls in the low post and converted 8 of 11 free throw attempts to go with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
“We won because of those two at the end of the day,” Weir said.
Of Jackson, he said the hype surrounding his Lobo tenure has made for almost unrealistic expectations from fans and media.
“The poor kid’s played one year of college basketball and I think every time he goes out everyone’s expecting him to get 40 [points] and 20 [rebounds],” Weir said. “Vance is a kid and he’s still going through stuff.”
The Lobos trailed 72-67 with 8:29 remaining but took the lead for good when a ferocious Manigault dunk after a steal highlighted an 8-0 run that ended with a pair of Jackson free throws with six minutes remaining.
The daggers came on consecutive possessions in the final three minutes when seniors Anthony Mathis and Dane Kuiper peeled into the same exact spot deep in the corner for 3-pointers to put the game out of reach.
For Kuiper it was his first bucket of the night and for Mathis it was one of the four 3-pointers he hit, giving him 14 points.
It’s their senior leadership that Weir said the team cannot do without, but it’s the play of ridiculously talented players like Jackson and Manigault that make the Lobos an entirely new kind of dangerous.
“We’re just so talented it can be anybody’s night,” Manigault said. “[Whoever] got it going that night, we just give them the ball and let them do what they do.”
As for Jackson, he was even more to the point.
“It just felt normal,” he said. “It’s just basketball. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
Jackson started the game with a pair of 3-pointers early on and was the only Lobo to provide consistent touch inside and out from start to finish. Ten of his rebounds came at the defensive end, a sign of his all-around game since he spent the majority of the night assigned to a guard on defense.
“We’ve talked about it, really, since the season began; we have size advantages,” Weir said. “We’re trying to get the ball inside consistently.”
Despite the sometimes herky-jerky nature of his club, Weir said the reason is simply this: With all but four players in the program new to UNM, it’s a growth process.
“We’re a little behind,” he said. “Our guys are still getting caught up to regular season contests and opponents and things like that.”
All of which explains the hiding-the-face-in-the-hands thing Weir showed at the start of the game.
Newest Lobo: Drue Drinnon made his UNM debut at the 16:23 mark of the second half, but it didn’t last long. The freshman point guard played less than two minutes and didn’t attempt a shot. In fact, his only official stats were one turnover and one assist.
He missed the team’s season opener and the exhibition after an ankle injury sent him to the sidelines in a preseason scrimmage against Northern Arizona.
Change of pace: The in-game festivities were a little different for Tuesday’s game. Before tipoff, UNM asked all freshmen to line up near the ramp to form a human tunnel for the players to run through before the game. No one showed up. It was business as usual, with the players trotting from the locker room to the floor behind the cheerleaders.
The halftime entertainment consisted of a pair of live acts, one of which was a solo singer who got a handful of fans to turn on their smartphone flashlights and wave back and forth as she sang.
Not fired up: Jackson hails from Los Angeles and made his Lobos debut last week not far from his home when UNM visited Cal State-Northridge.
With all the wildfires ravaging the L.A. area, he was asked about the impact it had on his family.
“I don’t really know about that ’cause I live in Albuquerque,” he said.