The calendar said Dec. 4.
The scoreboard, fans anxiety in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit and dueling coach complaints about officiating after Wednesday night’s Mountain West Conference opener between the Boise State Broncos and New Mexico Lobos, however, painted a picture of a late season league battle with plenty on the line.
In a game with 17 lead changes, including three in the final 62 seconds, Justinian Jessup’s missed 3-point try from in front of his own bench with 0.9 second left on the clock secured for the Lobos a thrilling, and hard fought, 80-78 win over the visiting Broncos in front of an intense announced Pit crowd of 10,301.
FINAL: New Mexico 80, Boise State 78
• UNM 8-2, 1-0
• BSU 4-3, 0-1 pic.twitter.com/cr6yU9xb8t
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) December 5, 2019
“It takes really good players who have a resolve about them that they’ve shown all year long,” UNM head coach Paul Weir said of what it took to beat a veteran Broncos team whose six primary rotation players are five seniors and a fourth-year junior.
“I can honestly say we have not gotten into a timeout (late in a game) at UTEP, at New Mexico State, here (against) McNeese, where there’s ever been a bit of panic on their part. … These guys they’re just confident. And it was just enough, obviously, to get the win tonight.”
Junior Makuach Maluach echoed his coach’s sentiment, saying this year’s Lobos roster has something that wasn’t there a year ago.
“Last year, some of the games we lost were close games and we couldn’t close them out,” said Maluach. “This year, we have a way older team. We’re more mature. We have guys that have played a lot of basketball, so we know what needs to be done.”Wednesday, the Lobos needed confidence, maturity, a little bit of good fortune and more to beat the Broncos. They also needed another monster game from senior guard JaQuan Lyle to push the Lobos record to 8-2 on the season (1-0 Mountain West) and a perfect 6-0 in the Pit. It’s the program’s best 10-game start to a season since 2012-13.
Lyle scored 31 points, matching his career high, dished out seven assists and drew seven fouls. And, unlike Sunday when he struggled mightily from the free throw line, Lyle on Wednesday hit 8-of-10 free throws and the Lobos overall sank 19-of-25 (76%) at the line. No matter the defense, the 6-foot-5 senior exploited it and proved too much for the Broncos to defend — posting up, driving to the lane, hitting 3s (3-of-7) and setting up teammates to score as well.
“Offensively, the only other player that was that fun to coach offensively was R.J. Barrett (the current New York Knick who was on the 2017 gold medal winning Canadian U19 World Championship team Weir helped coach),” said Weir about Lyle. “He’s an incredibly fun player to coach because he can do anything from anywhere. He can play in the post. He can play mid-post, elbow, he’s got a perimeter game. He can use ball screens. He can play isolation, one-on-one. We just move him around in different ways based on who’s guarding him and what skill we can take advantage of at the time.”
But Lyle wasn’t alone in putting on an offensive show on Wednesday. The Broncos (4-3, 0-1 MWC), as they’ve made a habit of doing in the Pit as long as head coach Leon Rice has coached there, had multiple players go off from the 3-point line. BSU hit 14-of-28 3-pointers, led by Jessup’s 6-of-10 for 24 points. Junior Derrick Alston added 20 points and six assists and Marcus Dickinson, who had hit five 3-pointers all season, sank four against UNM.
“They missed one when it counted. That’s all I know,” Weir said of his team’s 3-point defense, one he has admitted all season is a high-risk scheme due to the team’s emphasis on protecting the Lobo big men from getting in foul trouble by letting teams drive into the lane, which creates space on the perimeter for 3-pointers.
Lyle and fellow Lobo senior Carlton Bragg combined for 29 of UNM’s 41 second half points and 22 of the final 25 points. Bragg had 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the game.
After a pair of Alex Hobbs free throws put Boise State up 78-77 with 46.3 seconds remaining, Lobo J.J. Caldwell dished out his game-best seventh assist, finding Bragg for a layup, and a 79-78 Lobo lead, with 34.8 showing on the clock.
Several referee video reviews, one Zane Martin free throw for the Lobos, and a Boise State timeout later set up the final play — a Boise State inbounds in front of their own bench with 0.9 seconds remaining.
“When you’re down to 0.9 seconds, you don’t have a lot of options,” Rice said. “You’re kind of in trouble at that point unless the defense really, really screws up. You want to get (Jessup) the shot because he’s the best one and they did a nice job of doubling him.”
UNM, which entered the game leading the nation in made free throws and attempted free throws, was 19-of-25 from the line on Wednesday compared to Boise State’s 10-of-14. The free throw shooting was a stat both coaches didn’t seem thrilled with, though for different reasons.
“I thought they really let us play tonight, which was advantage Boise,” Weir said. “We need those foul calls. I thought down the stretch, we finally got a whistle. We finally got to the free throw line. And that kind of helped balance things for us.”
Rice had a different take on the officiating in a game his starting center — 6-7 R.J. Williams — actually ended up with a rare six fouls and was ejected with 5:08 left in the game. He was called for a foul on Bragg (Williams’ fourth foul), then assessed a double technical with Bragg (William’s fifth foul) then was ejected and picked up another technical (his sixth foul) in the process.
“There’s not much more you can do (than how the Broncos were defending),” Rice said. “When you’re in front of the guy with two feet on the ground and he runs into you, there’s a lot of contact. And I guess some of them were fouls. Apparently all of them were.”
UNM out-scored Boise State in the paint 48-20, on fast break points 20-5, and off turnovers 16-5 while committing just six turnovers and dishing out 19 assists. But the Broncos hit a season-high 14 3-pointers to keep the game close on a night both teams showed plenty of offensive firepower, each shooting 50.9% from the floor.
UP NEXT: The Lobos (8-2, 1-0 Mountain West) play in Laramie, Wyo., at 2 p.m. Saturday against the Wyoming Cowboys (3-6, 01 Mountain West). The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard locally on 770 AM/94.5 FM.
BOX SCORE: New Mexico 80, Boise State 78