Technical difficulties: Lobos lose their cool, and the game, vs. UTEP in the Pit - Albuquerque Journal

Technical difficulties: Lobos lose their cool, and the game, vs. UTEP in the Pit

Jaelen House drive
University of New Mexico guard Jaelen House, right, is pressured by UTEP’s Christian Agnew during Sunday’s game at the Pit. House scored eight points but also picked up one the Lobos’ three technical fouls in the second half. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Since he was hired, UNM men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino has talked up the power of the Pit at every opportunity.

And why not? The old gym built 37 feet into the New Mexico soil at the corner of Avenida Cesar Chavez and University can still pack a punch … when the Lobos let it.

Sunday, however, visiting UTEP walked into the Pit and took the crowd out of the equation by punching the University of New Mexico early and often, imposing its will in a surprisingly one-sided 77-69 win over the Lobos in front of a frustrated announced crowd of 9,044.

“Obviously we have a longer way to go than we probably realized with … just with everything,” Pitino said. “UTEP is a tough team — scrappy. We didn’t handle it well.”

UTEP (5-4) scored 24 points off 16 Lobo (6-5) turnovers and used a 16-1 run to start the second half to turn what was a sloppy, albeit a close game into a lopsided win. The outcome exposed maturity and physical flaws in a UNM squad that was whistled for three technical fouls in the second half and had several players far more consumed with reacting to the game’s officiating crew than to the clinic the Miners, playing without their starting point guard, were putting on.

The Lobos’ dynamic backcourt duo of Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., which averaged 37.6 points per game entering Sunday’s contest, was held to 10 combined points on 3-of-19 shooting to go along with committing eight of UNM’s 16 turnovers.

“When New Mexico is in rhythm and they can do whatever they want, they’re really, really, really hard to guard,” said first-year UTEP coach Joe Golding, explaining the game plan on House and Mashburn, aggressively taking them out of their comfort zones.

“We knew House loves to split ball screens. We knew Mashburn likes to back it up and take it downhill. And I thought we did a good job early on those two, in particular, making it tough. Anytime you let good scorers get comfortable early, it’s a long night.”

The Lobos had entered the game ranked No. 4 in the country in tempo, but the Miners dictated a much slower pace — one with a somewhat misleading final possession count of 71 because several were added in the final minutes as the Lobos were frequently fouling trying to extend the game.

“We had to control tempo,” Golding said. “I mean, let’s be honest. Everybody knows this game could be in the 80s. If it was in 80s or 90s, we’re getting run out of the gym. This game had to be in the 60s or low 70s And I thought we did a good job of keeping it there.”

UTEP took a 33-30 lead into halftime after holding UNM to 37.0% shooting in the opening 20 minutes.

The Miners opened the second half on a 16-1 scoring run, opening up a 49-31 lead with 13:46 remaining that left the frustrated Lobos seemingly at a loss for how to respond.

With 11:33 left, referee John Higgins called House for a foul on a steal attempt that appeared to be clean. House threw his hands in the air, lifted his jersey up and walked around the court while the fans booed the call. Nineteen seconds later, still upset with the call, House walked by Higgins on a dead ball on the Lobos’ end of the court. He appeared to say something to the official, was called for an immediate technical foul and went to the bench for the rest of the game.

With 5:46 remaining, Lobo forward Jay Allen-Tovar after falling to the ground under the basket with no call, got up and looked at referee Mike Reed, said something and was called for a technical foul, leading to his removal for the rest of the game.

And with 2:06 remaining, Taryn Todd reacted to a foul call — not seemingly intentionally directed at referee Gerry Pollard, but close enough to the referee that he was quickly called for a technical.

UTEP, after hitting 3-of-4 first-half free throws, scored 19 (of 25) at the line in the second half, including 5-of-6 on technicals.

“The officiating had nothing to do with the game,” Lobo guard K.J. Jenkins said. “Our part — the maturity with talking to the refs the wrong way — it kind of showed. Those technicals hurt us.”

UTEP was led by 26 points from Souley Boum, including 13-of-15 free throws, and 22 from Keonte Kennedy to go along with eight rebounds.

UNM played much of the closing minutes with a lineup that included Jenkins (11 points, five rebounds), Javonte Johnson (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Saquan Singleton (11 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists).

“The group at the end there, the last however many minutes, that’s what Lobo basketball needs to be all about,” said Pitino. “Again, am I going to say they quit (when UTEP made their run early in the second half)? I’m not going to say that. What I’m going to say is, there’s an inability to respond through adversity, and we’ve just got to learn from it and get more experienced.”

BOX SCORE: UTEP 77, New Mexico 69

UP NEXT: The Lobos host SMU next Sunday (Dec. 19) in the Pit at 1 p.m.

READ MORE: For more notes, quotes, stats and plenty of other odds & ends from Sunday’s game, check out Emptying the Notebook: UTEP vs. UNM

Home » Sports » College » Technical difficulties: Lobos lose their cool, and the game, vs. UTEP in the Pit

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