Lobos stumble out of gate, but rally to beat UTEP, 84-78
ALBUQUERQUE — As rebound wins go, it wasn’t all that pretty.
Still smarting from its loss a week ago to New Mexico State, the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team played like a team lost in thought for the first 10-plus minutes of Saturday night’s nonconference home game against UTEP.
It worked out, with the Lobos (3-1) winning 84-78 in a game that featured one lead change and two ties. It sends them into another weeklong break before the next game Saturday at Bradley in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.
UNM head coach Paul Weir said he’d use the week to try and find the magic touch that turned last year’s less-talented team into a machine, a touch that the current group has lacked through the first four games.
Ticky tack fouls, missed shots in the lane, bad passes and missed assignments on defense had the coach boiling over at times.
“This team just assumes it’s always going to come back,” Weir said. “It just assumes because we’re so good late that that’s just automatically going to happen. I don’t necessarily like the urgency with each possession along the way to get there.”
UTEP (2-3) held the Lobos scoreless for more than seven minutes and limited them to a single basket in the first 10:48. The Miners led by as many as 11 and forced a dozen missed shots in the first 13 attempts.
“For the first 30 minutes, they had us really speed up and we missed some easy shots,” Weir said.
It wasn’t until Anthony Mathis dropped in a 3-pointer at the 12:13 mark of the second half that New Mexico finally grabbed the lead. The Miners tied it twice in the next couple of minutes before the Lobos edged out in front for good.
Mathis continued his torrid start from the perimeter, making all four of his 3-point attempts to finish with a team-high 18 points in 31 minutes of playing time. He continued an odd trend of making four 3s and finishing with four fouls in every game.
“I’m not really worried about scoring too much,” Mathis said. “I just have to figure out how to stay out of foul trouble. I use my hands a little bit too much. On rebounds I get some ticky tack fouls.”
Mathis is now 16-for-24 from 3-point range this season and he’s 20-for-32 from the field, making him one of the most reliable shooters in the country.
Vance Jackson shook off a slow start to finish with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists while Makuach Maluach had 13 points and three blocked shots in a return to the same power forward position he played last season. He was moved to a 3-guard this year because of UNM’s infusion of taller low-post players, but was put back in at forward when the team’s leading scorer through four games, forward Corey Manigault, was benched after playing just four minutes.
“I’m a bit quicker than most of the forwards,” Maluach said.
Rumors circulated on social media during the game about a possible injury to Manigault, but Weir confirmed afterward that it was an issue between he and Manigault, one he chose not to discuss. Manigault was not available for comment after the game.
He was the only Lobo among the 11 who played that did not score.
Vladimir Pinchuk finished with 10 points and five rebounds, but Weir was frustrated by a couple of missed shots from pointblank range by his 6-foot-10 sophomore.
The Lobos converted only 23 percent of their shots in the first half and trailed 34-29 at the break. They hit 68 percent in the second half and scored 55 points in the final 20 minutes.
UTEP had five players in double figures, but the Miners’ bench was outscored 37-7 by New Mexico. … 5-foot-9 UTEP guard Evan Gilyard had a game-high 22 points, including five 3-pointers. … The Lobos forced 18 turnovers and outscored UTEP 21-13 as a result of those miscues. … Saturday’s attendance was 11,266. It was billed as a white-out game with fans receiving a free white T-shirt as they entered the building. Only a few hundred fans actually wore them.
Saturday: New Mexico (3-1) at Bradley (6-1), 6 p.m. in Peoria, Ill.
Live webcast: available on ESPN3
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