The Lobos came home to Albuquerque on Saturday night.
But they seemed to have already checked out of their temporary digs in St. George, Utah, by halftime — or sooner — of Saturday afternoon’s embarrassing loss to San Jose State inside Burns Arena on the campus of Dixie State University.
Playing without the Mountain West’s leading scorer, the Spartans secured their first Division I victory of the season with their best offensive game of the season, including scoring 50 second half points, in an 83-71 win over a rather lifeless UNM squad.
“Today’s on me,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said after regularly reminding people of the mental challenges his team has faced this season while being relocated out of state to practice and play — part of which is now remedied by their being allowed again to practice in Albuquerque.
Weir on Thursday even revealed he had been asking the league for changes in his team’s schedule to open up room to give his players some time off — requests shot down by either his bosses, the Mountain West Conference or both.
Saturday, the lack of focus and energy from his team was all on him against a Spartans team that for more than a month has also been relocated out of their home state to practice and play this season.
“It’s not on the league. It’s not anything else. I told the guys after the game this one’s on me,” Weir reiterated. “All I’ve asked for since we started this journey was effort, and for us … to play with just the overall effort and energy that we did is more of a reflection of me, and just this one’s on me. I did not do a good job, obviously, preparing our team mentally to come out and play with the type of energy that we needed. I made some decisions sub-wise or roster-wise that didn’t pay off either and I think today’s all me.”
The Lobos fall to 5-9 on the season and 1-9 in Mountain West play. SJSU, who lost by 16 points two days prior to the Lobos, is now 3-11 (1-9 MWC) and has a win against the Lobos in each of the past three seasons — the only league member to lose three consecutive seasons to the Spartans since they joined the league in the 2013-14 season and have since gone 18-124 in Mountain West regular season and tournament games.
UNM squandered a career game from Valdir Manuel, who had 25 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Starting point guard Saquan Singleton had 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with a career best 11 assists.
UNM led 35-33 at halftime and actually had one of its better scoring games of the season — assisting on 26 of 31 made field goals and scoring on 1.06 points per possession (they average 0.95, which ranks 304th in the country in Division I games).
But there were also 15 turnovers that led to an 18-5 points off turnover advantage for SJSU, who also scored 20 points on fast breaks, often set up by lazy Lobo passes setting up easy layups or transition 3-pointers at the other end. Two days after a 3-for-20 showing from 3-point range, the Spartans hit 10-of-23 (43.5%) from deep.
“I haven’t seen anything like this out of this team this year,” Weir said when asked a question about the second half performance that saw the Lobos get outscored 50-36 and the Spartans shot 59%.
“It’s obviously, like I said, this is a reflection more of me than them because that’s all I’ve really asked for was effort. I haven’t asked for the free throws to go in. I haven’t asked for the 3-point shots to go in. But I have asked for effort, and we did not have that today. And as much as I tried to coax it out of them with encouragement or anger or whatever it might be, to see if we could get them going, it just wasn’t there today. A lot of shallow, shallow faces and blank stares.”
Spartans senior Richard Washington, who averaged a league-best 22.2 points per game entering the series with UNM but was injured in Thursday’s Lobos win, did not play.
Instead, the Spartans found brilliance in balance with five players reaching double figures — four scoring 16 points and Omari Moore adding 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
SJSU scored 20 fast break points to UNM’s 5 and had 18 points off 15 UNM turnovers. The Loos led 35-33 at halftime before trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.
UNM starts a two-game series at Fresno State (5-6, 3-6 MWC) on Thursday.
EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK: For more analysis, notes, quotes, videos and more from Saturday’s game, CLICK HERE.
BOX SCORE: San Jose State 83, New Mexico 71
UP NEXT: Thursday at Fresno State, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network