SAN JOSE, Calif. — The final 14.9 seconds told the story of the previous 39 minutes.
After erasing an 18-point second-half deficit to take a one-point lead with 14.9 seconds remaining in the game, the UNM Lobos defense couldn’t seem to stop Richard Washington from finding enough space to knock down his career-best seventh 3-pointer, followed by another Lobos turnover in an 88-85 San Jose State win. It came in front of an announced crowd of 1,288 in the Provident Credit Union Event Center on Wednesday night.
After Washington’s 3-pointer — a thorn in the Lobos’ side all season from opposing teams — put the Spartans up 87-85 with 5.8 seconds left, Lobos junior guard Zane Martin — starting at point guard in the absence of suspended usual starter J.J. Caldwell — bounced the ball off his left shoe and out of bounds for the Lobos’ 18th turnover of the game.
The Spartans scored 29 points off those Lobo turnovers and Washington’s 25 points were enough to end the Lobos’ eight-game win streak and drop UNM to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in Mountain West play.
“I thought that was definitely the key one,” UNM coach Paul Weir said of the Lobos’ turnover problems. “And key two would be rebounding. Their offensive rebounds, especially in stretches, I thought really hurt us. Our first shot defense wasn’t awful, but to give up that many offensive rebounds — and we knew that would be an issue with their size and our kind of limited size in there. But turnovers one, rebounding two.”
UNM outrebounded SJSU 40-36 and the Spartans had 12 offensive rebounds to UNM’s 12.
But turnovers weren’t close (18 for UNM to 12 for SJSU) and neither were 3-pointers (12-of-33 for SJSU to 6-of-24 for UNM).
“It came pretty much from the one kid (Washington), who was awesome tonight,” Weir said.
“His percentages over the last few games were not even close to that. Especially that last one. That was a heck of a shot. I thought we had two guys contesting that shot. You’ve got to give him credit. That’s a high-level shot to win the basketball game.”
The Spartans (5-10, 1-2) finally broke through in the win column after opening league play with a competitive loss to preseason No. 1 Utah State at home followed by losing as 29-point underdogs at the buzzer at No. 13 San Diego State in San Diego, and then nearly seeing Wednesday night’s game slip through the cracks with a hard-fought rally by the Lobos.
But regardless of how well the Spartans had been playing, Wednesday was a game the Lobos know they were expected to win and should win if they want to consider themselves league title contenders.
But without usual starting point guard J.J. Caldwell and center Carlton Bragg Jr., both still indefinitely suspended by UNM without a time table offered for their return, the Lobos looked like a team just re-learning how to play with one another.
“I think that’s a legitimate question to ask,” Weir said when asked if they are title contenders without Bragg and Caldwell. “I hope that’s not the case, but I think that’s a legitimate question to ask. The reality is our three games since (the suspensions) have not been pretty in a lot of different ways.”
After the Lobo starters used a 17-2 run to open a 23-9 lead with 13:10 left in the first half, they went to the bench and things went south.
SJSU had a 14-0 run at one point to take a 28-26 lead and UNM hit just one field goal, and scored just three points, in the final 5:37 of the half, leading the Spartans to take a commanding 46-36 lead into the locker room at the break.
“Tonight, I thought we were in great shape and we went to that first set of subs and we took Corey and JaQuan out and the drop hit us immediately and the whole game changes and, unfortunately, we could never get our rhythm back until late,” Weir said.
But the Lobos fought back behind 25 points apiece from JaQuan Lyle and Vance Jackson, who also had 13 rebounds, chipping away at the SJSU lead until the sequence in the final seconds.
The Lobos have lost two years in a row in San Jose, and Wednesday marked the first time SJSU’s women’s and men’s teams beat the Lobos on the same day.