North Texas thumps Lobos, 74-65, as UNM loses for fourth time in 5 games
ALBUQUERQUE — At some point, someone is going to start waving the white flag and beg for mercy.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, with all its hype and influx of talent, with all it’s big men and wealth of high-profile recruits, lost for the fourth time in five games Tuesday night in The Pit. It was North Texas who turned the trick this time, dominating the Lobos (5-5) at the rim for a 74-65 win that was never really in doubt.
The Mean Green (11-1) never trailed and led by as many at 13 points in the second half. They forced 21 turnovers and — get this — outscored the Lobos 44-18 in the paint. They also had a slight rebounding edge but were outscored by 15 at the free throw line, yet remained in control from start to finish.
“When you turn over the ball that much against a team of this caliber, it’s not going to turn out well for you very often,” UNM head coach Paul Weir said. “Our turnovers, especially our live-ball turnovers, were killer.”
It also led to a number of fans showering the team with boos when the final buzzer sounded. Only a couple thousand fans bothered to stick around that long, many of them having left their seats with a few minutes left in the game and the outcome no longer in doubt.
After the game, Weir questioned his own coaching style. He admitted he is considering wholesale changes to how things are done, possibly scrapping the man-to-man defense and injecting some zone; anything to kick-start a team that seems on the fast track to nowhere.
“I don’t want to look back on this season and think that, whatever, that it was something I didn’t try to do or I wasn’t open to doing or looking to do,” Weir said. “I’m just going to keep digging every which way I can. Those boos, trust me, I feel the exact same way, and hopefully there’s enough time left and we can turn this and turn those boos into cheers.”
The Lobos missed their first eight shots as North Texas led 12-3. It didn’t get much better from there, although UNM did fight back to tie it at 17 midway through the first half on a Vance Jackson 3-pointer, his first made basket in nearly two full games. The Mean Green responded with a 10-0 run that put them in front for good.
UNM was shooting 6-for-24 at one point. Combine that with miserable low-post defense and one sloppy turnover after another — Corey Manigault’s curious attempt at running the point in a fast break that ended in a lob pass to no one, consecutive turnovers by freshman point guard Dru Drinnon and two more by fellow freshman Tavian Percy, just to name a few — and the Lobos’ worst enemy was clearly themselves.
“Easy fix, probably not,” Weir said. “I don’t think anything’s really easy. Fixes are hard, they take work, they take culture. They take a lot of different things that go into it. I’m trying to work on as many of those as I possibly can.”
Senior Anthony Mathis scored a game-high 20 points for New Mexico, but afterward, the questions surrounded him were about not shooting the ball enough. He got 11 of his points from the free-throw line and was just 1-for-5 from 3-point range; a telling stat that underscored the team’s reliance on him to hit virtually every shot he takes in order to stay in the game.
The Lobos were 9-for-21 inside the 3-point line; not bad numbers, but not great considering how big their lineup is compared to everyone else. The low post has five players standing 6-foot-8 or more, yet they converted just nine buckets under the basket.
“I could not tell you; I really do not know,” is how Mathis answered a question about why that is. “We’re supposed to be the fifth biggest team in the country. You’d think we’d score inside, but it’s just not happening right now.”
Center Carlton Bragg followed his 16-point Lobo debut Sunday with just six points in 27 minutes. He made only one shot and attempted just six. Vladimir Pinchuk had one point, Manigault two and Karim Ezzeddine three.
“I’ve tried to coach this team in a lot of different ways,” Weir said, “but quite frankly I just have not been able to emotionally connect with this group yet, and I’ve got to find a way to do that. I’ve tried a myriad of coaching styles. I’ve tried a myriad of meetings and personalities to try and extract from this team everything we can, and I’ve just yet to do that. I think we’ve done it in spurts, I think we’ve done it at times, but I think, you know, based on what we saw tonight, I’ve yet to really wrestle this team into knowing what it’s about, and that’s on me. I’m just going to keep trying.”
Dane’s downtime: Senior guard Dane Kuiper sat on the bench in street clothes. Weir said Kuiper needs rest in order to get back to ideal health.
“If you watched the film of our last game, he looks just kind of a shell of himself right now,” Weir said. “His knees are bothering him, and I just felt like it was time for him to get some rest for a while.”
Kuiper was removed from the second half of Sunday’s game against Central Arkansas for what was termed a minor injury. He has started three games and averaged 7.4 points and
2.2 rebounds, but his minutes have tailed off the last four games.
Mean Green: The 11-1 record matches the best start for North Texas in 42 years. Not since the 1976-77 team also started with the same record has the Mean Green been this good out of the gate. Tuesday’s win was the program’s first against UNM.
Defensive liability: Manigault played just three minutes in the second half, leading to speculation that he fell into Weir’s dog house once again. Not so.
“They were picking on him defensively,” Weir said. “We were trying to get him out there when we could. We talked about playing zone, but with the turnovers, we just couldn’t set anything up.”
Slow going: Aside from No. 6 Nevada, 9-2 Utah State and 7-2 Fresno State, the rest of the Mountain West Conference is struggling. Six teams have losing records and no one else is more than two games over .500.