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Lobo defense again falters in loss at Colorado State

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — What a difference a week makes.

The defensive switch that seven days prior had Univeristy of New Mexico men’s baksetball fans ready to erect a statue of head coach Paul Weir now seems more like the twilight zone to the same fans agonizingly watching the Lobos.

The Colorado State Rams on Saturday afternoon put on a clinic on how to break down the Lobos’ rather pedestrian-performing 2-3 zone, blowing out UNM 91-76 in front of an announced Moby Arena crowd of 3,057.

“They were the better team tonight,” Weir said after the game, his team’s second consecutive loss since blowing out previously undefeated and then No. 6 Nevada in the Pit on Jan. 5.

“There’s no other way to look at it. It’s not like we didn’t make shots or someone had a lucky night or whatever it might be. They were just better than us tonight.”

He’s not wrong as far as the Lobos offense goes. Four Lobos scored in double figures, led by 18 points from Vance Jackson, who also had 12 rebounds and four assists, and 16 from Anthony Mathis, who hit four 3-pointers. UNM (8-8, 2-2 Mountain West) also shot a decent 47.3 percent from the field, hit 12 3-pointers and scored a shade over the common standard benchmark of 1 point per possession.

But none of their offense mattered in a game they couldn’t stop the offense of the Rams (7-10, 2-2).

CSU’s guard-heavy lineup, even minus regular starter and third-leading scorer Anthony Masinton-Bonner, embarrassed the Lobos’ defense on a regular basis by penetrating the zone, beating the press and scoring at will at the rim.

CSU had 32 points in the paint in the first half alone, taking a 48-38 lead into the break.

By game’s end, it was 44 points in the paint with 6-foot backup guard Hyron Edwards scoring a career-high 20 points (his previous high was 9) and 6-3 J.D. Page scoring 14 to go along with six assists. The duo’s 34 points included just three 3-pointers.

Weir thought their success at the rim was more against the Lobos’ press defense, but it was hard to tell as they seemed to find success against whatever the Lobos tried.

CSU shot 56.1 percent from the field, was 20-of-25 at the free throw line and had 1.23 points per possession

“Those points (in the paint) to me were really in the press, very similar to UNLV (in the second half of last Tuesday’s loss in Albuquerque),” Weir said. “Like I told our guys, I’ve never seen a 5 (a center) at the rim and a guard driving to the rim and a guard being able to consistently score over bigs the way people have for the last 20 minutes of Vegas and the first 20 minutes tonight. … The guards’ ability to go and just finish over our bigs at the rim is troubling.”

Weir did, for the first time in four MWC games, sprinkle in some of the man-to-man defense the team struggled to execute effectively in nonconference play.

It was no use. In four first-half possessions of man defense, the Rams scored on three possessions.

It wasn’t just the guards, though. CSU’s 6-11 star center Nico Carvacho’s 16 points and eight rebounds were well below the dominance he’s shown in previous league games as he was hampered with foul trouble. But CSU’s other forwards — Adam Thistlewood (16 points, four 3-pointers) and Logan Ryan (12 points on 4-for-4 shooting and 4-for-4 at the free throw line) more than made up for it.

Asked if there is a shaken confidence in the locker room or something bigger going on with his team, one fans continue to feel is far more talented than it yet has shown on the court other than the Nevada win, Weir said, “Not that I’m aware of. … Those were two very guard-heavy teams. We’re not. And it’s getting exposed.”

Box score: COLORADO ST. 91, NEW MEXICO 76

Up next:UNM at San Diego State, Tuesday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/94.5 FM