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Unbeaten Aztecs dash UNM’s Pit win streak

UNM Lobo Keith McGee, center, is defended by San Diego State’s Yanni Wetzell, from left, Malachi Flynn and Matt Mitchell during Wednesday’s game in Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

With 4:09 showing on the Dreamstyle Arena clock in the first half, public address announcer Dylan Storm may have summed up Wednesday night’s game between undefeated, No. 4 San Diego State and the reeling New Mexico Lobos as well as anybody could by simply doing his job.

“Clay Patterson checks in for the Lobos. Malachi Flynn checking in for the Aztecs.”

The UNM Lobos, down four of their original starters this season, had Rio Rancho High School walk-on guard Clay Patterson logging first-half minutes and sharing a spot at the scorers’ table with the presumptive Mountain West Player of the Year and All-American Candidate point guard of the now 22-0, No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs.

That surreal moment was a microcosm of what happened Wednesday night.

A simply superior in every way Aztecs squad jumped out to a 17-0 lead and never looked back, handing the shorthanded Lobos an 85-57 loss, the fourth worst defeat in the Pit in UNM program history.

“Thank you so much to the 13,241 (announced attendance) that came out,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said. “Playing basketball at the Pit is an amazing environment. I forget what our home winning streak is, but it’s an amazing advantage to us. And sometimes it also brings out the best in others. I thought that opening three minutes from San Diego State were the most impressive three minutes I’ve ever gone against another team in the four years I’ve been a head coach. They came out laser focused. …

“You have to play the perfect game to get this one and we, unfortunately, were far from it.”

Alas, perfection remains on the side of the Aztecs this season. SDSU improved to 22-0 and 11-0 in Mountain West play and enjoyed their largest margin of victory in the Pit.

For the Lobos, as bad as Wednesday was, it was UNM’s first home loss in 16 games, including having started this season 13-0 in the Pit, a record for the Lobos in the 21-year Mountain West era.

But these Lobos are, as most UNM fans know by now or became painfully aware of Wednesday night, not the same team that racked up all those wins.

About 90 minutes prior to Wednesday’s game, Lobos senior guard JaQuan Lyle posted on social media an apology to fans for his actions over the weekend when, despite being injured and not traveling with the team to their 22-point loss in Nevada, he rented an Air BnB home and hosted a party that got out of hand with uninvited guests eventually shooting two people, including a Lobos softball player.

Shortly after his post, UNM announced Lyle, who committed no crime or specific NCAA, team or school violation by hosting the party, would be suspended two games for conduct detrimental to the team.

His absence, as well as that of fellow former starters JJ Caldwell (suspended), Carlton Bragg (dismissed from team) and Vance Jackson (knee injury), left the Lobos with a lineup led in rebounding by Atrisco Heritage graduate Jordan Arroyo, a sophomore walk-on, and Lobo starters Corey Manigault (12) and Keith McGee (10) as the team’s only double-digit scorers.

SDSU led by as many 35 points with 14:05 left in the game and seemed on pace to set a Pit margin of victory record by an opponent (36 is the record), leaving starters in until the final media timeout.

All five SDSU starters scored in double figures and the Aztecs hit a season-high 15 3-pointers.

Head coach Brian Dutcher agreed the fast start by his team was the reason Wednesday was a no-contest.

“Road wins are the hardest thing in college basketball to get and this has been a hard place for us obviously, because they have such great fan support and the building is electric,” Dutcher said. “This is one of the hardest places to coach your own team because they can’t hear you….

“I like Paul a lot. We’ve become pretty good friends. Winning basketball games is hard when you’re healthy But when you’re missing four starters, then it becomes doubly difficult. I feel for Paul. It’s hard enough when you have all your pieces, but when you’re deficient players, deficient starters, then it’s just a long night. You have to play almost perfect basketball to win.”

BOX SCORE: San Diego State 85, New Mexico 57

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