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Penn sends skidding Lobos to another defeat

The Lobos lost on their home court to the better team on Saturday.

The fact that sentence is even a possibility for this University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, which is supposed to finally break out of the land of the average and into the postseason for the first time in five years, doesn’t seem to sit well, or even register as a reality, to many Lobo fans.

Worse yet, said UNM second-year coach Paul Weir, after Saturday’s 75-65 loss to the Penn Quakers, he doesn’t know if his players yet realize it either.

“I told my team after the game I think they — initially me, up until the Northern Arizona scrimmage (in October) — read what everybody wrote about us and seemed to think that wins were just going to happen,” said Weir. “The night of the Northern Arizona game, I got off social media. I slept in my office. I knew what I saw then was scary. And unfortunately I haven’t been able to put that same fear into our guys.

“I don’t think that (the Lobos feeling nervous on Saturday facing Penn) was the case. I think, unfortunately, they thought the opposite. I hope we’re done with that after the conversation we just had. We’re not good as favorites, clearly. Or thinking that we are. We have to take a completely different approach. I have to take a completely different approach to a different mentality and hope that will at least change the course of where this team is going.”

Penn, the Ivy League school that in reality was the 3-point favorite, improved to 10-2 Saturday, 11 days after beating defending national champion Villanova. The Quakers led for 33 minutes and 33 seconds of the 40-minute contest, shot better than the Lobos, committed fewer turnovers and showed the capability of closing a game that was tied at 61-61 with just over five minutes remaining.

Lobo Anthony Mathis, center, looks to shoot a 3-pointer while being defended by Penn’s Jarrod Simmons, left, and Eddie Scott. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

UNM, meanwhile, is now 5-6 with five of those losses coming in the past six games — and four of the losses coming in the once-feared Pit. While there was a 25-7 first half run that had the announced Dreamstyle Arena crowd of 10,874 as loud as it’s been all season, there was also very little urgency shown down the stretch. The Lobos fumbled a pair of easy rebounds out of bounds after the 61-61 tie and the team shot under 30 percent in the final 20 minutes.

The Lobos, senior guard Anthony Mathis said, need to get “more gritty and more disciplined” and “learn to finish basketball games.”

Mathis suffered from what is believed to be food poisoning on Friday and wasn’t sure he would play even an hour or so before tipoff. “That will definitely be the last time I eat Chipotle,” he said.

He shot just 4-of-13 from the field and was one of three Lobos with 13 points.

Corey Manigault and Carlton Bragg, a pair of forwards who are 6-foot-9 and 6-10, respectively, also had 13 points each, but the Lobos again were unable to have their noticeable size advantage pay the dividends. Penn’s pair of big men outplayed the Lobos’ frontcourt as A.J. Brodeur (20) and Michael Wang (19) combined for 39 points.

“We’ve got all the pieces to the puzzle,” Bragg said. “We’ve got to just start putting them together and finishing out the game.”

After digging themselves another early deficit — this time the Lobos trailed Penn 19-4 with 12:24 left in the first half — UNM rattled off the 25-7 run that gave them a 29-26 lead with 4:41 left in the opening period.

But that would be UNM’s largest lead.

Weir was called for a technical with 1:53 left in the half for running onto the court to yell at an official when a call didn’t go the way of the Lobos, and it didn’t exactly serve as the spark he may have hoped for.

UNM missed its first six free throws and it didn’t get much better throughout the game. After shooting 84 percent on 31 attempts in Tuesday’s loss, the Lobos were 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) from the line on Saturday.

Box score: Penn 75, New Mexico 65

Up next: Dec. 30, UNM at University of the Southwest, in Hobbs (Tasker Arena), 2 p.m.,770 AM/94.5 FM

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