FRESNO, Calif. — Eight was the magic number in two wins in Albuquerque over the past eight days.
Saturday, eight merely represented the team’s losing streak away from the Dreamstyle Arena this season.
The Fresno State Bulldogs used razor-sharp shooting early and a 14-0 scoring run late to hold off the undermanned Lobos, 89-80, on Saturday in front of an announced Save Mart Center crowd of 6,244.
“I just told them in the locker room, my allegiance to them is not based on winning and losing. It’s based on effort,” said Lobos head coach Paul Weir after the loss. “I thought our physical effort tonight was really, really good. I thought our mental execution was not. Part of that was probably taking a day off (on Thursday, the team did not practice). I knew when we took a day off, we might slip a little bit mentally. I think it showed up tonight.”
The Lobos, who used the same eight-man roster for the third-consecutive game while Sam Logwood (shoulder injury) and Troy Simons (indefinite suspension) both stayed home in Albuquerque, fell to 8-11 overall this season and 3-3 in Mountain West play. They are 0-8 away from Albuquerque this season (0-6 in true road games, 0-2 in neutral court games).
Weir has praised the eight players who played in the past three games and has not said when Logwood or Simons might return, answering with the same “Not at this time” comment when asked for status updates on both Saturday night.
Asked, then, if the group of eight he has been playing is enough to compete in the Mountain West long term, especially with the Lobos’ frenetic and intense style, Weir said: “It better be. It’s all we got. So, we’re going to work with it and give it everything we’ve got and we’ll find that out.”
As for Saturday, Fresno State (13-6, 3-3 MW) had four players score in double figures, led by 22 from junior guard Deshon Taylor. As several teams have done, it used a size advantage to get to the rim with ease and open shots on the perimeter.
FSU hit a program record (minimum 10 attempts) 75.0 percent of its 3-pointers (9-for-12) and shot overall a Save Mart Center-record 65.3 percent in the game.
The Bulldogs started the game hitting 15 of its first 18 shots (83.3 percent) and led by as many as 14 on a Bryson Williams three-point play with 12:31 left in the half, putting FSU up 21-7.
But the Lobos settled in, defending better down the stretch and never letting up on offense, tying the game at 40 on a Chris McNeal layup with 28 seconds left in the half. Fresno State led 42-40 at the break.
The surge continued after halftime as UNM led 64-59 on a Makuach Maluach bucket with 8:51 remaining.
But they then went cold, being held scoreless for more than 5½ minutes while FSU went on a 14-0 scoring run to take a 78-66 lead and never looked back.
Maluach, a 6-5 freshman, scored a career-best 21 points in a career-high 34 minutes. Anthony Mathis added 18 points and hit four 3-pointers. McNeal came off the bench for 16 points.
UNM shot 51.9 percent in the game (with matching 14-for-27/51.9 percent halves), hit eight 3-pointers, shot 84.2 percent from the free throw line (16-for-19) and committed just 10 turnovers.
“I mean, to score 80 points on the road at Fresno I think is a pretty good number,” Weir said. “… Offensively, I thought we had a pretty good night tonight. Defensively, we just didn’t do what we need to do to get a win.”