Neither did a severe snow storm falling outside Clune Arena on Wednesday night in southern Colorado.
But an old nemesis for the UNM Lobos — the free throw line — managed to do the trick.
UNM missed 15 free throws Wednesday night at the U.S. Air Force Academy, allowing the Wyoming Cowboys to hang around long enough to force overtime, where the Lobos ran out of gas in an 83-74 loss — the fifth in a row for the Lobos and second overtime defeat in the past three games.
“It’s mentally draining to be honest,” said senior Makuach Maluach, who led UNM with 17 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. “We’ve lost a lot of close games. Something’s got to break at some point.”
The Lobos (5-12, 1-12 Mountain West), who hadn’t played since Jan. 30 and now play four games in an eight-day span at the Air Force Academy as they are still prohibited from playing games their home state, certainly had their chances, and young guards were the main reason in the second half.
Freshman guard Isaiah Marin, who hadn’t played since Jan. 23 due to an eye injury that has still not been fully resolved, hit two 3-pointers in a 1-minute, 5-second span as part of an 8-0 run that put the Lobos up 61-54 with 7 minutes left in the second half, the Lobos’ largest lead. Marin, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, hit his third triple with 2:39 left in regulation, again to take a lead back from the Cowboys and put UNM up 68-66.
With Wyoming back up 71-68 in the final minute, it was freshman guard Javonte Johnson, who returned home this week to where he was a first-team all-state star last year for Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, rattled in a corner 3-pointer with 29 seconds left to tie the game 71-71 and force overtime.
But the choice to ride the guards through overtime — both because they were among the only Lobos scoring in the second half and because UNM’s starting big men 6-foot-9 Bayron Matos and 6-10 Valdir Manuel managed just a combined 10 points and seven rebounds against a guard-dominated Cowboys roster — proved costly in the extra period. The two freshmen guards went cold, going 0-5 in overtime as Wyoming outscored the Lobos 12-3 in the extra frame.
“We didn’t protect our basket very well on the backboard — gave them way too many second chances,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said of Wyoming’s season-best 13 offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points in a game the Lobos defense held the offensive-oriented Cowboys under 40% shooting in regulation. “… I told them that after the game. We have to own that. We have to, obviously, own making more free throws (UNM finished 13-of-28 at the line). And I think just that toughness — we ran out of gas. There’s no question about it. But there’s got to be more of a fight to fight through that fatigue.”
The Lobos, who called off a two-game series two weeks ago against San Diego State with only five scholarship players available and had last week’s two-game series against Colorado State called off by Larimer County (Colo.) health officials due to COVID-19 concerns, played 10 scholarship players at least 10 minutes apiece on Wednesday and only one player (Maluach) played more than 30 minutes, so fatigue wasn’t what the coaching staff expected to see late.
Wyoming (11-9, 5-8 MWC) had six players score in double figures, including 17 from freshman Marcus Williams and backup big man Hunter Thompson hit four of the team’s 13 3-pointers for 14 points.
The same two teams play again Friday at Clune Arena.
LOOK WHO’S BACK: Of the three players who were injured and not available had the Lobos played the San Diego State series two weeks ago or Colorado State last week — Rod Brown (ankle), Singleton (knee) and Marin (eye) — all three played on Wednesday.
EJECTION: Weather led to Wyoming arriving at the arena much later than planned, pushing the start of the game back 10 minutes. Wyoming coach Jeff Linder apparently wasn’t happy his team wasn’t given more time to warm up, according to the Wyoming radio crew, and had been riding the referees hard throughout the first half, culminating with his being called for a pair of technicals after a foul called on the Cowboys with 1 minute left in the half and being ejected.
UNM went 2-6 on those free throws, Wyoming then closed the half with a Thompson 3-pointer and a Drake Jeffries steal and layup at the buzzer for a 5-0 run and a 33-29 lead at the break.
BOX SCORE/GAME BOOK: Wyoming 83, UNM 74 (OT)
UP NEXT: Friday at 7 p.m. vs. Wyoming at the U.S. Air Force Academy, CBS Sports Network, 770 AM