The last time Lobo basketball fans saw Vance Jackson in action before Wednesday night, he was dominating two games in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas, Nev.
The 6-foot-9 stretch-four forward averaged 25.5 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in wins over Wyoming and Utah State, earning all-tournament honors.
He even flirted in the offseason with testing the NBA draft waters before returning to the Lobos, for whom he entered the season with high expectations.
So a quick glance at his six-point performance in Wednesday night’s 92-71 Lobos win over Division II Eastern New Mexico might be a bit of a head-scratcher for some fans.
It shouldn’t be.
Statistically, UNM was at its best when Jackson was on the floor and not forcing the issue. The junior had the highest plus/minus figure of any player (the Lobos were at plus-21 in scoring in the 28 minutes he played) and he was more than happy to let all those new players around him shake off their rust in a game that was never in doubt.
Still, it was a bit surprising to see Jackson not attempt a shot until there was 7:24 left in the first half.
It’s something senior guard JaQuan Lyle said can’t happen moving forward, but it’s not necessarily as much an issue for Jackson as it is for the team’s point guards.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting him in his spots and hitting him in the right places where he can make plays and get his shots off,” said Lyle. “He’s a very valuable player to this team.”
The Lobos do need Jackson, a matchup problem for teams, to hit shots this season for UNM to reach its full potential. But coach Paul Weir isn’t worried about that. If anything, he may need more players willing to do what Jackson did on Wednesday and find ways to be productive without always focusing on scoring, as there are plenty of options on that front.
“That’s going to be a work in progress, probably through March – finding a way to juggle and merge all these offensive talents together,” Weir said. “I think we have a lot of potential based on that, but I don’t think we’re going to reach it unless we become a good defensive basketball team.”
MAKUACH: One player who had no problem scoring on Wednesday was 6-7 junior Makuach Maluach, who has quietly continued to be as consistent a player as the Lobos have had in Weir’s three seasons.
Maluach had a game-high 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the wing in 22 minutes and did so without the offense running through him.
“I think Makuach serves a huge role for us because he’s an energy guy who can guard positions,” Weir said. “He’s good at playing without the basketball. We have a lot of ball-dominant guys who are good with the ball. You need to couple them with players who are good playing without the basketball.”
FORMER LOBOS: UNM hit 7-of-20 3-pointers on Wednesday. A pair of former Lobos also had big nights from beyond the arc on Wednesday.
Tony Snell, now playing for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, scored 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting, including 6-of-6 from 3-point range.
Troy Simons, who transferred to Kent State after the 2017-18 season to live closer to his daughter, hit 4-of-8 3-point tries and scored 17 points in just 10 minutes of play in the Golden Flashes’ blowout win over Division III Hiram College.
ATTENDANCE: The announced attendance at Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit on Wednesday night was 9,501.
Yes, it was against a Division II opponent, but Wednesday wasn’t an exhibition game. It was the regular-season opener for the Lobos and, as such, was the lowest announced attendance for a regular-season home basketball game in the Pit since Dec. 22, 2017, against Prairie View A&M.
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: Martin was called for a technical in the second half, something that should be expected from the passionate, fiery player this season.
Still, he insisted to reporters after the game that will be his only one this season, a statement received with some skepticism in the media room.
And what, exactly, did he do to deserve his technical foul?
“The technical was about me and a guy (ENMU defender) – we exchanged words the previous play,” Martin said. “And then I got fouled. I felt good about myself so I kind of kicked some words back to him.
“But, we do have some guys on this team, we’re competitive. We like to play hard. The background some of us come from kind of comes out during the game, but I feel like we do a pretty good job of keeping it under control.”