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Emptying the Notebook: Lobos get punched in the mouth and win

Lobo guard Keith McGee (3) poses after a dunk with teammate Zane Martin (0) close behind during the first half of Saturday’s game against McNeese State in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Here are some notes, quotes, stats, videos and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook that wouldn’t fit in print after Saturday’s UNM Lobo 90-80 win over McNeese State:

Was that a good thing?

Here’s the good part for the Lobos. They went 4-0 on the season-opening stretch of games they should have gone 4-0 on.

And in three of those games, they were clearly the better team.

But Saturday, the Lobos got punched in the mouth by a not-so-great-on-paper McNeese State team (the Cowboys are 1-4 and ranked 308 out of 353 on KenPom.com).

“That might have been one we didn’t get last year,” said Lobos coach Paul Weir, referring to UNM’s habit, even before he was hired, of losing at least one or two non-conference games against teams they clearly should have beat.

So, two questions come to mind after a game that was still tied with under 2:30 remaining with the Cowboys clearly frustrating the Lobos and taking them out of their comfort zone.

First, are the Cowboys better than their record?

I think so. All their key players except Sha’markus Kennedy are new, including Dru Kuxhausen who hit 119 3-pointers a season ago in the junior college ranks (5th in the country) and already has made 15 (of 35 for 42.9 percent) this season. They’ll get better with more time together.

Second, did the Lobos, need a punch in the mouth type game before hitting the road Tuesday at UTEP? After all, they’re about to face a Rodney Terry-coached team that will play physical and then some. Thursday UNM heads to road game No. 2 at New Mexico State against an Aggies team that has won the last five times in the rivalry.

So, yeah. UNM probably needed to see how it might handle a touch of adversity before walking into the Don on Tuesday and Pan Am Center on Thursday, even if what happened wasn’t by design.

“That was hopefully a good test for us to maybe get into a close one when maybe, hopefully, we needed a game like that,” Weir said. “That’s not saying we didn’t want to win by more or we shouldn’t have played better, but, hopefully in the long run a game like this will serve us well.”

And, even as McNeese State just kept coming at the Lobos, senior guard JaQuan Lyle, who was a spectator on the bench a season ago while sitting out injured, said the team didn’t look like the Lobos of old when things weren’t going just right.

“Even when they went on their runs and they took a lead, nobody was bickering at each other,” Lyle said. “Everybody was staying together and trying to figure out a way to win. I think that was the biggest thing going forward.”

As for McNeese State’s ability to take the Lobos out of their comfort zone not only with their play but with antics that were clearly frustrating the Lobos and keeping them out of their usual offensive flow, Lyle says the team better get used to it.

“I think teams are going to try and do that just to try and get us off our game,” Lyle said. “We’re a good basketball team and I think whenever we’re all together and we’re all locked in, it’s very scary and I think teams know that so they try to get under our skin and have us discombobulated and have us out there playing not together.”

The clincher

Point guard J.J. Caldwell clinched the game with a steal (he had four in the game) and assist (he had 10) to Corey Manigault.

The gamer

Here is the gamer I filed from the Pit after Saturday night’s game:

He said it (Part 1)

“I’ve been on teams that played in Cameron Indoor, and I still say this is the best atmosphere in college basketball. It’s the hardest place to play.” — McNeese State coach Heath Schroyer, who was a head coach in the Mountain West (at Wyoming) and multiple time assistant coach in the league at stops like UNLV and BYU.

He said it (Part 2)

“I think he’s the best low post, left block scorer I’ve ever had. He’s really, really good down there. And he always has been. The issues have always been the rebounding and the defense and the things that round those things out. I thought he was really good again in that area of the game.” — UNM coach Paul Weir on the game of senior forward Corey Manigault.

Manigault’s final stat line: 24 points, 6-8 FGs, 12-16 FTs, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 9 fouls drawn

Coooooooop!

Former Lobo and former multi-time NBA World Champion Michael Cooper was in the Pit on Saturday and the crowd welcomed him with a familiar “Coooooop!” chant.

Number to know: 90

The Lobos have scored 90 or more points in each of their first four games this season.

• Nov. 6: W, 92-71 (vs. Eastern New Mexico)
• Nov. 9: W, 97-70 (vs. CSU-Northridge)
• Nov. 13: W, 93-78 (vs. Green Bay)
• Nov. 16: W, 90-80 (vs. McNeese State)

In the 1977-78 season under Norm Ellenberger, Lobo basketball scored 90 or more points in 21 of 28 games.

Since that 77-78 season, streaks of four-consecutive games of 90 points scored by UNM have happened just four times:

2019-20 (4)
• See above

2016-17 (4)
• Feb. 20, 2017: W, 119-114 (at Wyoming)
• Feb. 25, 2017: W, 91-90 (ve. UNLV)
• Feb. 28, 2017: W, 108-87 (at Colorado State)
• March 3, 2017: W, 95-86 OT (vs. Fresno State)

1998-99 (5)
• Nov. 28, 1988: W, 93-61 (vs. Northeastern)
• Dec. 2, 1988: W, 93-72 (vs. Ark.-Pine Bluff)
• Dec. 8, 1988: W, 101-94 (vs. UT-Pan American)
• Dec. 19, 1988: W, 102-71 (vs. Sacramento State)
• Dec. 21, 1988: W, 90-46 (vs. McNeese State)

1978-79 (5)
• Nov. 24, 1978: W, 122-74 (vs. NM Highlands)
• Nov. 27, 1978: L, 96-93 (at New Mexico State)
• Dec. 1, 1978: W, 95-81 (vs. Wichita State in Tempe, Ariz.)
• Dec. 2, 1978: L, 104-100 (vs. Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.)
• Dec. 5, 1978: W, 97-84 (vs. Lamar)

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles…

Don’t look now, but the Colorado State Rams in Niko Medved’s second year as coach are winning some solid games. They improved to 3-1 on Saturday (3-0 against teams not named Duke) with a solid 10-point road win at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

That’s the same Loyola Marymount team that gave Nevada a scare in Reno last week, but lost 72-67.

The Rams entered the season ranked 159 in the KenPom ratings and have moved up to 137. Not bad for the team picked to finish ninth in the preseason Mountain West media poll.

Around the Mountain…

There were four games around the Mountain West on Saturday (the league went 2-2) and three more from Friday night (the league went 1-2):

Saturday
• New Mexico 90, McNeese State 80
• Oregon State 83, Wyoming 63
• Colorado State 74, Loyola Marymount 64
• USC 76, Nevada 66

Friday
• No. 17 Utah State 81, North Carolina A&T 54
• UC Irvine 69, Boise State 60
• UCLA 71, UNLV 54

Photos, photos and more photos

Journal photographer Roberto Rosales put together a photo gallery from Saturday’s game: GALLERY (UNM vs. McNeese State)

Attendance

The announced attendance for Saturday’s game: 10,501

Plus/minus time

Here are the ever-popular plus/minus stats for the Lobos, with minutes played in parenthesis:

+29 Corey Manigault (20:07)
+11 Zane Martin (22:21)
+9 JaQuan Lyle (36:20)
+8 Keith McGee (9:14)
+4 J.J. Caldwell (31:13)
+2 Tavian Percy (3:29)
-2 Carlton Bragg (26:45)
-4 Makuach Maluach (29:54)
-7 Vance Jackson (20:37)

Box score

For those who like a pic of the actual score sheet:

And for those who want a link to the online version: HERE

Keith McGee can jump

Keith McGee is good at things like this…

Another number to know: 17

The Lobos had 17 steals on Saturday night (and also gave up a few buckets gambling for more of them).

Most since…
• 22 steals vs. Northern New Mexico on Nov. 11, 2017 (NAIA school)

I wasn’t able to find the last time UNM had more than 17 vs. a Division I opponent, but I know the team’s all-time record is 25 vs. D-II Western New Mexico in 1990 and vs. a conference opponent it’s 19 vs. Colorado State in 2005.

Video: Weir, Lyle and Caldwell

Here is the postgame press conference with coach Paul Weir and players JaQuan Lyle and J.J. Caldwell, as posted to the Journal’s Facebook page:

Up next…

Here’s where things get interesting. The season is broken up into pretty obvious checkpoints. The first four home games the Lobos completed at 4-0 and scored 90 points in all four games with the defense performing average/acceptable in three and poorly, in my opinion, on Saturday.

Now, the next four games are really tough, all four away from the Pit and two in hostile rival arenas. Even a really good Lobo team, which we don’t yet know if this version is, could go 0-4 in a stretch like this and it not mean they aren’t still a good team.

Here’s the next four games for UNM:

• Tuesday at UTEP (3-0), a very improved Rodney Terry coached Miners team awaits in the Don.
• Thursday at NMSU (2-1), do I need to remind anyone the Aggies have won five in a row against the Lobos?
• Nov. 25 vs. No. 22 Auburn (4-0), the opener of the Legends Classic in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
• Nov. 26 vs. either Wisconsin (2-1) or Richmond (2-0), the second day of the Legends Classic in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Welcome back

A couple familiar promotions from past seasons were back for the first time this season at a Lobos game, including the on-court ROTC presenting of the colors for the national anthem as well as the singing of the National Anthem in Navajo as part of the American Indian Heritage Month game in which the Lobos, for the first time this season, wore turquoise jerseys.

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