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Emptying the Notebook: Free throws continue to cost Lobos

Players from the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team are shown prior to their overtime loss to Wyoming Wednesday night at Air Force Academy. (UNM Athletics photo)

Here are some extra notes, quotes, tweets, stats, videos and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Wednesday’s 83-74 UNM Lobos loss in overtime to the Wyoming Cowboys in a game played at the U.S. Air Force Academy:

The freebies cost the Lobos, again

There was no blaming weeks of not regular access to a gym to get up shots this time.

The Lobos were in Albuquerque much of the past two weeks with access at all hours of the day and night to the Rudy Davalos practice facility to get up shots and, hopefully, find a rhythm at the free throw line.

This time, the Lobos just looked like a team that isn’t good at free throws, hitting just 13 of 28 (46.4%) from the charity stripe on Wednesday.

On the season, they’re 60.1% shooting from the free throw line ranks 345th out of 347 Division I teams that have played this season, per KenPom.com.

And when one reporter asked if Wednesday night was still a sign of a lack of regular gym time, senior Makuach Maluach said it was more about a lack of focus in general than not getting the repetition needed in a gym to be consistent shooters.

“I wouldn’t even say that. I just think you got to concentrate,” Maluach said. “When you go to the line, just shooting with confidence. It’s more concentration than anything. So it’s not like about how many reps — you can put in as many reps as you want. But you’ve just got to concentrate and knock them down.”

Getting to the line frequently was by design for the Lobos this game as they were focused on using its size advantage to create contact, attack the rim and play in the paint. And that part of the plan worked. The Lobos were in the bonus with 12 minutes left in each half and attempted 28 free throws — usually a great sign for a team that struggles to score in the halfcourt offense.

But, as noted, the Lobos hit just 46.4% of those free throws, the fourth time this season the team hit fewer than half of its free throws.

It’s one thing to shoot 44% on nine attempts, as the Lobos have done twice this season. It’s another to do it on 28 attempts, leaving 15 — FIFTEEN! — points out there on misses.

It’s worth noting that three of the four worst free throw shooting games for the Lobos were in designated home games that would normally have been played in the Pit, where the Lobos shooting percentages have traditionally been higher than in other venues.

UNM’s worst FT% in 2020-21
• 42.9% (15-of-35) — 68-54 loss to Nevada on Jan. 2 in Lubbock, Texas (home game)
• 44.4% (4-of-9) — 83-71 loss to San Jose State on Jan. 23 in St. George, Utah (home game)
• 44.4% (4-of-9) — 65-55 loss to Fresno State on Jan. 30 in Fresno, Calif.
• 46.4% (13-of-28) — 83-74 (OT) loss to Wyoming on Wednesday in Colorado Springs (home game)

The gamer

Here is the gamer I filed Wednesday night for the Journal’s website and for Thursday’s print edition:

‘Home’ again

The homecomings were all around on Wednesday.

Dave Pilipovich, now the special assistant to the head coach for the UNM Lobos after eight seasons as the Air Force head coach made his first trip back to Clune Arena on Wednesday and, ironically, he was again on the home team bench.

UNM was technically hosting Wyoming because it still isn’t allowed to host games in the Pit as no college games are allowed in New Mexico due to the public health order.

Here’s a “home team bench” picture courtesy of UNM Athletics:

But Dave, who still has his home in Colorado Springs, wasn’t the only one coming home.

Lobos freshman Javonte Johnson is back home after being a First Team All-State star last year for Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Mountain High School.

And Wyoming junior wing Hunter Maldonado played his high school ball at Vista Ridge in Colorado Springs.

A number to know: 13

Wyoming had 13 offensive rebounds to just 11 for the Lobos. That ties a season high for offensive boards for the Cowboys, who also had 13 in a December win over Oregon State.

Wyoming converted those 13 offensive boards on Wednesday to 12 second chance points — the third most second chance points the Cowboys have had in a game this season.

He said it: Maluach version

After losing game No. 12 this season, including the fifth straight loss and second overtime loss in the past three games, Makuach Maluach showed about as much frustration as he’s shown all season (in a season he’s had more than enough reason to show frustration).

Here’s what he said after the game to reporters back in Albuquerque:

Makuach Watch

OK, that was the frustration for the Lobo senior, but here’s a glance at some of the good he did in the game because, quite frankly, he did have a pretty solid game.

Lobos senior Makuach Maluach ended up with 17 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

Among his highlights was this nice baseline dunk off the nice find from Saquan Singleton in the second half…

Maluach’s 17 points gives him 1,200 for his Lobos career, tying him with former Lobo Mark Walters (2002-2006) for No. 22 on the program’s all-time scoring list.

Up next? Fellow Aussie Cameron Bairstow, another four-year Lobo who led the team in scoring his senior season and ended his UNM career with 1,239 points in 134 games.

Here’s where Maluach sits on the list after Wednesday:

20. 1,246 — Marvin Johnson (1976-1978)
21. 1,239 — Cameron Bairstow (2010-2014)
t22. 1,200 — Makuach Maluach (2017-present)
t22. 1,200 — Mark Walters (2002-2006)
24. 1,159 — Roman Martinez (2006-2010)
25. 1,158 — Charlie Thomas (1987-1989)

Revisiting the preview article

In the preview article in Wednesday’s Journal, I quoted UNM coach Paul Weir and Wyoming coach Jeff Linder both saying what the top of their scouting report was for the game.

Let’s revisit…

From Paul Weir:

“So far in Wyoming (game preparation), all we’ve discussed is we’ve got to, at the end of this game, tell ourselves we did our best at guarding the 3-point shot.”

Wyoming was making 12.5 3s in league wins and attempting 32.5 3s, hitting at a 38.5% clip.

Wednesday: 13-of-38 (37.1%)

That’s about what they average in their wins.

It doesn’t change for the Lobos anytime soon, as Weir noted: “Really, our last two opponents (Wyoming for two games, Air Force for two) are going to be reliant in order to beat us on taking and making 3s. … With this game, it really starts and ends there.”

From Jeff Linder:

“Where New Mexico is gonna beat you – it’s not about tricky plays or whatnot. It’s about when that shot goes up, you better be ready to go rebound and then you better be able to get back in transition. The game doesn’t start until that shot’s up.”

Wednesday: Wyoming had 13 offensive rebounds, tying a season high and had more offensive boards than the Lobos (11).

Saquan for … 3?

Entering Wednesday’s game, Lobo point guard Saquan Singleton was 0-for-6 on 3-pointers.

He’s been one of the best Lobo players all season, but it hasn’t been because he’s a deadly outside shooter.

In fact, I even mentioned as much to Wyoming coach Jeff Linder when I talked to him on Tuesday, noting Singleton is a guy who scores by driving and creating contact and asked how the Cowboys would defend that.

Linder’s response to me on Saquan not shooting many 3s all season 3s:

“I think the biggest thing with Saquan is he knows who he is. There’s some guys that they want to prove that they can shoot. And lo and behold, you just bait them into shooting one and then the best thing that happens is that they make the first one and then they decide, ‘Alright. I’m a shooter tonight.’ Or ‘I’m gonna prove to everybody that I am a shooter. I gotta prove to the scouts — I got to prove to everybody that I can make shots.’ …

“So, in the case of Saquan, he knows who he is. And with his size, I think that’s what presents the biggest challenge for us is that his size in terms of trying to match up. You know, with his ability to not only go off the bounce but to his ability to post up. That’s where we got to do a good job of not letting him get downhill. … We’re gonna have to do a good job of trying to make him go East and West as much as possible and try to minimize his paint touches.”

So, sure enough, not only did Saquan Singleton hit his first 3-pointer as a Lobo, he hit a pair of long balls and was 2-for-4 form 3-point range.

This is the first one he hit in the game, which happened to be just a few feet in front of Linder, who you can see in the video tossed his head back and was surely thinking he will never again listen to what Geoff Grammer has to say about a Lobo player ever again.

For those scoring at home, Singleton is now 2-of-10 from 3-point range on the season.

Wait, what happened?

It wasn’t clear by watching the online stream of the game what happened and the announcing crew was never given an explanation to pass on to viewers. But at the end of the first half, after a made 3-pointer by the Cowboys, a foul away from the ball was called, leading to two free throws for the Lobos. But Wyoming coach Jeff Linder apparently had a differing opinion on the call, and was promptly given a pair of technical fouls and was tossed from the game.

If you were watching from home, all you knew is the Wyoming lead of 28-27 turned into six free throw attempts and possession for the Lobos, who hit only two of those free throws (have I mentioned they struggled at the free throw line enough yet?) and they also didn’t score on the ensuing possession they had after the technicals, squandering in the final minute what could have been an 8 or 9 point possession had they hit all the free throws and then made a 2-point or 3-point basket.

Instead, they got two points and Wyoming answered with a 3-pointer then stole the ball from the Lobos in the closing seconds and hit a layup at the buzzer for a 5-0 run into the break and a 33-29 lead.

What could have been about a 10-point final minute for UNM turned into a 5-2 final minute for Wyoming.

After the game, UNM coach Paul Weir said he wasn’t given a clear explanation of what happened with Linder, and apparently neither was the Wyoming bench…

Here’s one take about what happened relayed on Twitter from Keith Kelley back in Wyoming who was listening to the Wyoming radio crew explain the situation:

His reference to Linder wanting more time to warm up was because Wyoming arrived at the arena just 30 minutes or so before game time due to weather and game officials only delayed the start of the game 10 minutes to accommodate more warm-up time.

Back and forth they go

There wasn’t really any point of Wednesday’s game where things looked out of control for either team, well, maybe until that 12-3 overtime run. Neither team ever had a double-digit lead. Wyoming’s largest lead (9) came in the overtime. UNM’s largest lead was just seven points.

Only four times all game were there stretches of either team scoring at least six points in a row before the other team answered with at least a free throw:

• 9-0 Wyoming (1H 15:15 to 1H 12:23): Went from UNM 7-6 to Wyoming leading 15-7

• 10-0 New Mexico (1H 11:57 to 1H 6:54): Went from Wyoming 15-7 to UNM leading 17-15. The run including five Lobos scoring the 10 points — a Jeremiah Francis 3-pointer, 2 points apiece from Rod Brown, Makuach Maluach and Valdir Manuel, and one free throw from Bayron Matos.

• 6-0 New Mexico (2H 14:52 to 2H 13:21): Went from Wyoming 39-37 to UNM leading 43-39

• 8-0 New Mexico (2H 8:06 to 2H 7:01): Went from Wyoming 54-53 to UNM leading 61-54, the largest lead of the game and freshman guard Isaiah Marin hit two 3-pointers in that 1:05 span.

Meanwhile, in Boise…

They let the fans (900 of them) in Extra Mile Arena on Wednesday night for the first time all season and the Broncos delivered.

Boise State knocked off the team that was atop the Mountain West standings (Utah State) and now it’s the Broncos sitting alone at the top, though with the toughest remaining schedule in the league.

Around the Mountain

There were a pair of games on Wednesday night around the Mountain West, one more Thursday and three on Friday:

WEDNESDAY
• Wyoming 83, New Mexico 74 (OT)
• Boise State 79, Utah State 70

THURSDAY
• San Diego State at Fresno State, 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

FRIDAY
• UNLV at San Jose State, 6:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. MT (TheMW.com)
• Wyoming vs. New Mexico (at Air Force), 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
• Utah State at Boise State, 7 p.m. MT (FS1)

Mountain West standings

Here are the Mountain West standings through Wednesday:

13-3 Boise State
11-3 Colorado State
11-3 Utah State
9-3 San Diego State
9-5 Nevada
7-7 Fresno State
5-7 UNLV
5-8 Wyoming
3-11 San Jose State
2-14 Air Force
1-12 New Mexico

Another number to know: 6

While Wyoming’s top two scorers Marcus Williams (17) and Hunter Maldonado (11) did have a combined 28 points, it was on just 9-of-26 shooting and the Lobos probably would have been OK with that had they been told before the game that would be the duo’s stat line.

But Wyoming had a season-high six players score in double figures to help the cause on a night the Lobos defense actually held its own, for the most part., keeping the Cowboys to under 40% shooting from the field in regulation.

Plus/minus stats

Here are the plus/minus stats from Wednesday’s games for the Lobos, with minutes played in parenthesis:

+15 Rod Brown (19:00)
+7 Saquan Singleton (29:36)
+1 Valdir Manuel (27:41)
-2 Kurt Wegscheider (10:25)
-7 Jeremiah Francis (29:23)
-7 Bayron Matos (15:07)
-9 Isaiah Marin (29:17)
-12 Emmanuel Kuac (11:35)
-15 Javonte Johnson (17:14)
-16 Makuach Maluach (35:42)

Stats and stats

Here’s a link to the game stats (digital version) from Wednesday: Wyoming 83, New Mexico 74 (OT)

And here’s the more traditional looking stat sheet: Wyoming 83, New Mexico 74 (OT)

Grammer’s Guesses

Because, of course this is what would happen.

The Guesses went 0-2 on Wednesday, even though picking the Lobos getting +6.5 points was absolutely the right call through 40 minutes of regulation.

Anyway, another 0-fer means my recent surge to catch my daughter has ended. I’m sitting at 35-40-1 on the season.

My daughter’s coin flip picks went 1-1 and she’s at 36-39-1. And after the loss she took Wednesday night with her hopes to get back into the classroom sometime soon (Albuquerque Public Schools decided to stay with virtual learning), I’ll gladly give her the win for this night.

But no more! All wins for the Guesses after this.

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