ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The University of New Mexico and the Mountain West Conference on Monday were working to determine disciplinary action against one fan and still trying to identify another fan who threw objects at San Diego State players on Saturday night after the Lobos knocked off the then-No. 6 Aztecs in a sold-out Pit.
And Lobos coach Craig Neal on Saturday night spoke out against the longtime tradition of having two teams shake hands after a game. There was some pushing during the handshake line following Saturday’s game, and the two teams were quickly separated.
“Handshake lines aren’t good,” Neal said. “I still don’t understand them. When two competitive people go to war, two competitive teams go to war – they’re not nice. I don’t know what happened, but I was just trying to get my team out of there.”
Anticipation of the game had built during the season with SDSU in first place in the league and UNM one win behind. The Lobos took an early lead in the game and never looked back.
UNM Athletic Director Paul Krebs told the Journal the school has identified the fan who threw a cup from behind the Lobos bench as the San Diego players were leaving the court – a fan singled out emphatically by Neal – but the athletics department had not yet contacted that fan as of Monday evening. Krebs said he would not comment further on the incident until that happened.
He did confirm “action will be taken,” stopping short of saying what specifically that may be. He would not say whether the fan is a season ticket holder who may have those tickets revoked or if he was using the tickets of somebody else.
After Neal pointed out the fan, security escorted him out of the building. However, the guard failed to get the fan’s identification, and the school had to review video to track him down.
Krebs said there was a second object, believed to be a water bottle, thrown from a fan behind the south basket of the Pit toward SDSU players as they walked up the ramp toward the visiting locker room. Krebs was less optimistic, based on video reviewed, that the school will be able to determine exactly who that fan is.
“Suffice it to say we want to win every game, but we want to do it in a classy way that represents the university and our fan base in the right way,” Krebs said. “When something like this happens, it’s very disturbing. It’s disturbing in a lot of ways – that we don’t have more restraint, that this particular fan thought he could be a part of the action, so to speak. That message is the wrong message. So we reserve the right to ultimately pull season tickets, but I think there is some information gathering that still needs to occur.”
A year ago when a UNM fan, who ironically was a UNLV student from New Mexico, reached out and shoved UNLV senior Anthony Marshall along the north baseline of the Pit floor during a January 2013 game, that fan was banned from the Pit for the season. But the season tickets, which belonged to his family, were not revoked.
Oklahoma State player Marcus Smart was suspended three games this month when he shoved a Texas Tech fan after the fan called him a derogatory name. The fan voluntarily decided not to attend another Texas Tech game this season.
UNM and the league are also reviewing video trying to decipher what started the postgame scuffle near midcourt while the two teams shook hands – an incident that preceded the objects being thrown. They are also trying to determine whether an unidentified San Diego State player threw a towel at a UNM fan after the game before or after the cup was thrown.
Mountain West assistant commissioner for communications Kim Melcher responded to the Journal in an email that the league “has reviewed the postgame incidents following Saturday’s San Diego State-New Mexico men’s basketball contest. We have been in communication with both institutions and commend both programs for their quick response to the situation and cooperation with the conference office.”
On Saturday, SDSU coach Steve Fisher said he was the first one to shake hands and the first one up the tunnel.
“So I have no idea what happened in the handshake line.”
“I asked our coaches, ‘Did you see anything?’ They witnessed fans throwing a water bottle and a cup of ice and stuff.”
Fisher said players Skylar Spencer and Dwayne Polee III “had stuff thrown on them.”
Neal made it a point to repeat several times after the game, “We don’t do that here,” in reference to the cup-throwing incident.
“The key from our perspective is we don’t want this to take away from our tremendous game or the great victory for the Lobos,” Krebs said. “The atmosphere was tremendous. We have great fans. We had 15,400 folks in the building and we have two individuals, two incidents where something was thrown. The vast majority of fans were loud, supporting the Lobos and did all the right things. I don’t want to give the perception we have a lot of unruly fans, but it only takes one or two to cause a problem.”
Fisher said he tends to agree with that sentiment.
“We’ve been here every year and every year they’ve had 15,000 plus, with Snake (a boisterous and well-known fixture at the games) leading the charge, them screaming at us, yelling,” Fisher said. “I’ve never had people throw stuff at us until tonight.”
However, this is not the first time a paper cup has caused a flap at the Pit. In 1986, a Lobo fan threw a paper cup at a UTEP player who was attempting a free throw with two seconds left and UNM up 70-69. The Miner missed the shot, but the official called fan interference. The player then made two free throws to win the game.