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It’s now the struggling Lobos against the world

A referee corrals UNM player Zane Martin (0) and coach Paul Weir late in the Lobos’ 78-73 home loss on Saturday to UNLV. The Lobos have lost seven of their last nine games. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Paul Weir’s first season as Lobo men’s basketball coach was the best he’s had to date.

A main part of the equation in Year 1 was a roster of players sick of being told how bad they were, about how they were picked ninth in the league and how they didn’t have talent to compete in the Mountain West.

That roster, with a chip on its collective shoulder and an “us against the world” mentality, struggled mightily in the non-conference before things clicked in mid-February. The Lobos won their final five regular season games and a couple more in the MWC tournament, riding a seven-game winning streak into the conference title game.

This season, the talent is not questioned and the struggles are in league play, not in the non-conference.

But, after Saturday’s 78-73 home loss to UNLV – UNM’s seventh loss in nine games – the Lobos (17-10, 6-8 Mountain West) again are forging an “us against the world” mentality in the face of mounting criticism of player attitudes and performance by fans – and even within the UNM administration. And all while calls for third-year coach Weir’s job intensify on the eve of Tuesday’s game against Nevada where the program’s previous two coaches – Steve Alford and Craig Neal – will be on the opposing bench.

If you ask Zane Martin, members of the team have only each other to turn to right now, and that’s OK with him.

“Stay together. Stay committed,” Martin said when asked what it will take to get things right. “I’d rather go through the rough times now than in March. Hopefully we get could get it going in March.”

And as for the support of his Lobo teammates? Martin says nothing has changed in his mind from the day he chose to come to UNM.

“These guys are my brothers,” Martin said. “I’m from Philadelphia. I’m in New Mexico. The guys on the team right now are my brothers. I feel like we’re connected. We just got to lock in. That’s it.”

Martin received some criticism for his end-of-game decision making on Saturday – he had a turnover, missed a 3-pointer in the closing minutes and shot just 2-of-11. It’s apparently easy to overlook his eight-assists – four in each half – which was more than any player on either team on Saturday.

In fact, in Mountain West play, there are just seven players averaging more than 4.0 assists, and UNM is one of only two teams with two players on that list: JaQuan Lyle (4.6) and Martin (4.0).

Lyle is the Lobo clearly taking the most criticism of late.

When he checked out of Saturday’s game in the second half, a cheer from the Pit fans was noticeable. While most seem to agree it was, at least in part, about his performance, he was certainly hopeful it was about Keith McGee checking in as opposed to his checking out.

“I hope – Keith came in and got me,” Lyle said when asked about it in a postgame press conference. “I hope that was the reason they were cheering or whatever it might be. But, however you take it, you take it I guess.”

Lyle, who used to be a regular participant on social media with messages about the team and interaction with fans, shut it down on Jan. 2 after online criticisms began drowning out any benefit his interactions on the platform might have had.

“No more Twitter after tonight for the rest of the szn,” he posted on Twitter then. “Hope all our of supporters, stay true through process. we’ll be fine, I promise.”

On Saturday, his mother posted her frustrations about fans constantly criticizing her son, who has been at UNM for three years and spent last season rehabbing a torn Achille’s tendon to play this season.

Former Lobo Elijah Brown, the focus of heavy fan criticism in his run with UNM under Neal, even chimed in on Sunday showing support of Lyle.

“Keep pushing, never too high or too low my boy,” Brown wrote in a message to Lyle on Twitter. “They love you one hour can’t stand you the next..we signed up for this tho!! Worry only about what you can control..I’m riding wit ya lil bruh!!”

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