It’s written atop the gold-colored Kobe Zoom 6 sneakers that Jamal Mashburn, Jr., wears for every game.
“Keep Going,” alongside the number 5 in honor of his best friend and former teammate Terrence Clarke, a Kentucky basketball star who was killed in a car crash in April.
While the message is very personal for the 6-foot-2 Lobo sophomore guard, he’s tried to make it a mantra on the court – Never take a moment for granted and never let any adversity get the best of you.
On Saturday in the Pit, Mashburn made sure neither he, nor his UNM teammates flinched when the team’s leader in scoring, assists, steals and energy left with a sprained ankle in the final eight minutes of a tight game with Montana State.
Mashburn led all scorers with 21 points to go along with four assists and was a calming, steadying force in the absence of the high-energy Jaelen House. He led the Lobos to a hard-fought 81-78 win in front of a boisterous announced crowd of 9,084.
“When it’s time – when a man goes down, it’s ‘next man up’ mentality,” said Mashburn. “And for me, my focus is the same. Just stay in attack mode and keep everybody organized.”
The win improves the Lobos to 3-1 on the season and a perfect 3-0 in the arena that is still waking up after a year without basketball played in it.
“Saturday afternoon in the Pit – the crowd was awesome. Our guys fed off it, especially in the second half with some unbelievable hustle plays,” said Lobos coach Richard Pitino. “We scratched and clawed for rebounds. We hadn’t done that yet (this season). And then guys, individually, did some things that they haven’t done. Gethro (Muscadin, 18 points and 10 rebounds) was terrific. KJ (Jenkins with 17 points and four 3-pointers) was great. Javonte (Johnson) made some big plays. …
“When you have a guy like House down, it’s very, very difficult. So terrific win.”
Pitino said House, who left the game with a sprained ankle with 7:33 remaining in the game, will be evaluated again on Sunday. House did lobby the coach unsuccessfully to return to the game.
Without House, the Lobos needed all the energy the fans in the old gym could muster down the stretch.
Montana State (1-3), which on Nov. 9 took to overtime the same Colorado team that beat UNM by 11 last weekend in Boulder, didn’t hit the second-half wall Albuquerque’s high-elevation usually causes in visiting teams.
Instead, after a Mashburn jumper with 10:49 remaining made it 58-50 in favor of the Lobos, the Bobcats went to work – inside and out.
Over the next five minutes – a stretch that included House leaving the game with the sprained ankle – the Bobcats went on a 16-4 run capped by a Jubrile Belo dunk for a 66-62 lead with 6:02 remaining.
For Belo, it was two of his 15 points. He was one of five Bobcats to score in double figures, and the visitors outscored the Lobos 42-20 in the paint.
But when it looked like Belo and fellow big man Abdul Mohamed might take over the game down low, Muscadin answered the bell, leading a quick 8-0 run in which his 15-foot baseline jumper with 4:13 left gave UNM a 68-66 lead.
The Lobos would not trail again.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore, who has shown earlier this season he struggles with his emotions on the court when things don’t go his way, dominated down the stretch. His final stat line was 18 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots. In the final 6:23 alone, while the game was being decided, the Kansas transfer had eight points, four rebounds (three offensive), two steals and a blocked shot.
“I just had to just keep playing,” said Muscadin. “… It was when I started going inside, really. That gave me momentum.”
UNM outrebounded Montana State 33-32 – the first time UNM outrebounded an opponent this season, and shot 47.3% from the floor. The Lobos’ 22 (of 29) free throws compared to Montana State’s 16 (of 19) proved to be the difference.
The Lobos hit 6 of 8 free throws in the final 1:14 to ice the game.
MONDAY: Western New Mexico at UNM, 7 p.m., 770 AM/96.3 FM, streaming at themw.com.
BOX SCORE: New Mexico 81, Montana State 78