LAS VEGAS, Nevada — One team looked like they had been there before.
The other clearly has a ways to go.
Despite fighting tooth and nail most of the night against a bigger, stronger UAB team that was favored by 13 points, the Lobos succumbed to the relentless Blazers pressure down the stretch in the Las Vegas Invitational on Thursday. UNM committed a season-high 20 turnovers and hit just one of its final nine shots in an 86-73 loss at the Orleans Arena that was far more competitive for 35 minutes than the double-digit deficit would suggest.
“We clearly had a bad couple minutes that got away from us,” said Lobos head coach Richard Pitino. “We were not disciplined for 40 minutes. I thought we played hard. I thought we wanted it. … It’s just our discipline broke down.”
Jamal Mashburn Jr. scored 19 of his career-high 26 points in the second half for the 4-2 Lobos, trying at times to single-handedly keep the Lobos in the game as his college hall of fame father was watching from him heat up from under the Lobos’ basket.
But he also had five of UNM’s 20 turnovers, and starting point guard Jaelen House, making a return from a sprained ankle suffered last Saturday in a home win against Montana State, struggled in a 4-of-15 shooting night with seven turnovers.
“I think they did a good job of switching up their defense,” Mashburn said. “… They were throwing a lot of different stuff at us — just to keep us guessing. At that point, we can’t look over at coach and look at the bench (to see what to do). We just got to play.”
The Lobos did a good job over the first 12 minutes of the game, answering each time it seemed like UAB might make a run.
A Javonte Johnson 3-pointer with 9:18 left put the Lobos up 19-18.
That was when UAB began to ratchet up the half-court trap with an intense on-ball pressure House and the Lobos hadn’t seen at all so far this season.
Between a pair of K.J. Buffen free throws with 8:30 and a Rongie Gordon bucket with 6:26 left, the Blazers scored eight of 11 points off turnovers. And a 10-0 run had them up 31-21 with 5:52 left.
But the Lobos fought back, cutting it to 42-37 at halftime off a late Javonte Johnson 3-pointer — one of three on the night for the sophomore, who had 13 points.
Mashburn scored 13 of the Lobos’ first 15 points in the second half for a 52-50 lead with 12:43 left.
But the relentless UAB pressure — the Blazers entered the game ranked No. 2 of 358 Division I teams in turnover rate — kept coming and a half court trap seemed to do the most damage.
A 68-68 game with 5:14 to play turned to an 18-5 run for UAB to close the game.
The Blazers out-rebounded UNM 41-27, outscored them 13-8 on second-chance points and had 25 points off of UNM’s season worst 20 turnovers.
“I’m pissed off about losing,” Pitino said. “I want our guys to hate it. We also have a short memory.”
The Lobos play again Friday night in the two-day tournament vs. Towson, a 71-61 loser to San Francisco in the event’s nightcap game on Thursday.
SINGLETON RETURNS: Lobo senior guard Saquan Singleton played for the first time this year after a bout with COVID-19 and a heart abnormality that followed that that kept him off the court for two months.
He played 18 minutes, had eight points and was just 3-of-9 from the free throw line.
“I thought I thought he looked good,” Pitino said. “The hard part was we were in the double bonus early and he’s just not a great free throw shooter. And that’s a problem.”
FRIDAY: Las Vegas Invitational: UNM vs. Towson/San Francisco, 7 p.m., FS2, 770 AM/96.3 FM.
BOX SCORE: UAB 86, New Mexico 73