Emptying the Notebook: Lobos 'MoJo' frontcourt shows its potential - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: Lobos ‘MoJo’ frontcourt shows its potential

UNM Lobo forward Josiah Allick screams with excitement after scoring against the South Alabama Jaguars in their game Friday night in the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Here are a few extra notes, quotes, stats, tweets, videos and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Friday’s 80-74 UNM Lobos win over South Alabama in the Pit:

Mo and Jo…

OK, forget that closed door secret scrimmage where the stat sheet showed a Northern Arizona big man had 15 points and 20 rebounds against the Lobos.

And forget Monday’s season opener where UNM’s two new, 6-foot-8 veteran transfers Josiah Allick and Morris Udeze had a combined eight fouls, Allick failed to score a point (he took only one shot) and Udeze had just one rebound (he came here to help the rebounding right?).

Forget those things for a moment and look at Friday night in the Pit.

When Udeze and Allick — the new “MoJo” frontcourt starters for the Lobos — took over the game early and often, combining for 34 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 14-for-22 (63.6%) shooting all while helping to largely neutralize South Alabama’s star center Kevin Samuel (more on that below).

That was what the offseason hype was about when Lobo players and coaches talked about the new guys helping set a tone of physicality.

“Me and Josiah, the transfers, came here to build a winning culture,” said Udeze. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Sure, guards Jaelen House (21 points, 7 assists) and Jamal Mashburn Jr., (16 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds) still had strong games, but the difference Friday compared to many games of a season ago was that there was a consistent threat in the post — a threat to finish at the rim or rebound some missed shots (the Lobos and Jaguars tied on the boards, 34-34).

Second-year head coach Richard Pitino said he loved not only the assertiveness and confidence of his big men, but the clear trust their teammates have in them.

“I was really proud of Mash and House because, although we weren’t all that good last year, they got a lot of shots,” Pitino said. “I’m not saying they don’t want to win. Of course they want to win, but that’s pretty fun for guards when they get all the shots (like last season). …

“We’ve said over and over again to Mash and House, you’re gonna have to sacrifice a little bit. Not not a lot. We want you to score points, but we got to go where our bread is buttered throughout the course of the game, and with (South Alabama’s) foul trouble, I thought going down low was the best option.”

Indeed it was.

Udeze, the Wichita State transfer, drew 8 fouls while committing only two of them. He had 21 points and 7 rebounds.

As for Allick, the University of Missouri-Kansas City transfer, he went from not scoring on Monday to scoring UNM’s first two baskets on Friday and finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds, no fouls committed and three assists.

Said Allick, “Basically, my goal for every game is, when you watch this film back, you’re not going to be able to say I didn’t play hard.”

The game story…

Here is the short game story I filed Friday night from the media room in the Pit…

He said it…

“It feels great to be 2-0. And I still think there’s so much we can get better at. I mean, our defense is still very, very poor. But we made winning plays at the end when we needed to.” — Richard Pitino, UNM Lobos head coach

A number to know: 3.17

The Lobos had 19 assists on Friday night, tied for the second most in the brief 34-game Richard Pitino era. They also had just six turnovers, tied for the fewest in a game in the Pitino era.

Put those together and UNM’s 3.17 team assist-to-turnover ratio on Friday night vs. South Alabama was the best under Pitino.

For context the NCAA’s Division I leader in assist-to-turnover ratio among 358 Division I teams last season was Iowa at 1.74. So, clearly, the Lobos won’t keep up that pace all season, but Friday sure was a good sign.

Here’s a look at the top assist games under Pitino…

Most assists (team) under Pitino
21 – vs. San Jose State (Jan. 28, 2022) – win
19 – vs. South Alabama (Friday) – win
19 – vs. Utah State (Jan. 8, 2022) – loss
18 – vs. Northern New Mexico College (Feb. 11, 2022) – win
17 – vs. Southern Utah (Monday) – win

And those turnovers…

Fewest turnovers under Pitino
6 – vs. South Alabama (Friday) win
6 – vs. Denver (Dec. 9, 2021) – win
6 – vs. Norfolk State (Dec. 21, 2021) – win

Not since…

Hat tip here to UNM hoops SID Steve Kirkland for finding this nugget.

Jaelen House’s 21 points, 7 assists game on Friday coupled with Monday’s 23 points, 7 assists game make him the first Lobo since Kendall Williams in the 2013-14 season to post back-to-back 20 point/7 assist games.

I get to mention Tony Gwynn!!!

Jaelen House wasn’t the only player going off on the stat sheet, particularly with assists, on Friday night.

South Alabama’s Isaiah Moore, a Division II All-American last season at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, nearly had a triple double on Friday, scoring 19 points with 13 assists and 7 rebounds.

His 13 assists is tied for 5th most all-time for a Lobos opponent and second most ever by a Lobo opponent in the Pit.

Here is the list for the most assists in a game against the Lobos with, yes that Tony Gwynn, in spots No. 1 and No. 2:

MOST ASSISTS VS UNM
16 – Tony Gwynn, SDSU – March 7, 1981 (at SDSU)
14 – Tony Gwynn, SDSU – Feb 14, 1980 (at SDSU)
14 – Johnny Mitchell, Kentucky – Dec. 5, 1977 (the Pit)
14 – Jeff Jonas, Utah – Jan. 27, 1977 (at Utah)
13* – Isaiah Moore, South Alabama – Friday (the Pit)

(*there are now 9 players tied with 13 assists vs. the Lobos)

The clincher…

Leading 76-74 with under 20 seconds remaining in the game, Josiah Allick got the ball near the right baseline with 7-foot center Kevin Samuel guarding him.

As South Alabama freshman Jamar Franklin got caught sagging far too deep in the paint on help defense, Allick spotted an open Jamal Mashburn Jr. cross court for a kickout 3-pointer — Allick’s third assist of the game and Mashburn’s second 3-pointer to make the game 79-74 with 16 seconds remaining.

Jaelen House came up with a steal on the ensuing USA possession and hit 1 of 2 free throws after he was fouled for the final score of 80-74.

So, about that big guy…

My Friday game preview in the Journal, accompanied by a large photo, focussed on the fact that South Alabama’s 7-foot, 260-pound center Kevin Samuel could arguably be the best center the Lobos face all season.

No, he’s not as good as Wyoming’s Graham Ike (Ike is currently out with an injury), but Ike is more forward than center and Samuel is a stud as a classic center. Regardless, at worst Samuel is one of the best centers the Lobos will face all season.

His accolades include:

• He’s the NCAA’s active leader in career rebounds
• He has started all 130 games he has played in his college career. He started 95 games at Big 12’s TCU, where he’s that program’s career blocks leader (206). He started all 33 games last season at Florida Gulf Coast, where he became the Atlantic Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year.
• He’s one of only three Division I players with 1,000 career points (he entered Friday’s game with 1,220) and 1,000 career rebounds (he entered Friday’s game with 1,060)

So, yeah. He’s pretty good.

But the Lobos did a fantastic job neutralizing him, both with foul trouble early, but also when he was on the floor, simply never letting him get going. He picked up his first personal foul with 17:15 left in the first half and his second foul with 7:21 left in the half, sending him to the bench and limiting his first half minutes to 11:47.

“Huge,” Pitino said of getting Samuel in foul trouble. “We had to get him off the court. Had to find a way to get him off the court.”

Samuel still ended up with a stat line many would love to have most nights, but also one the Lobos were more than happy for him to have, too.

KEVIN SAMUEL on Friday:
• 10 points
• 5-7 FG
• 0 free throw attempts
• 3 fouls
• 6 rebounds (2 offensive)
• 3 blocked shots
• 2 turnovers

Look who’s back…

Sophomore center Sebastian Forsling made his long-awaited debut for the Lobos this season — long awaited in that he not only missed Monday’s season opener, but also the team’s closed-door scrimmage and it’s exhibition game, all with injuries.

Friday, after a wrist injury (over the summer in Sweden) and then preseason injuries to his ankle, a concussion and a sickness, Forsling finally suited up on Friday.

Forsling on Friday night didn’t get a ton of playing time (3:50), but he did play. That’s the most important part for the Lobos moving forward.

Still, he played. And here was his statline:

• 2 points
• 1-1 FG
• 3:50 time on court

Just one bucket, but it was a nice one…

Foul, no foul…

Monday, the Lobos had been called for 11 fouls by halftime.

Friday, their first foul wasn’t called until the 12:12 mark of the the first half and they finished having been called for just 9 fouls all game.

That, obviously, had big implications at the free throw line.

The Lobos have now shot 59 free throws this season, hitting 40 (67.8%). UNM’s two opponents have gone a combined 13-of-19 at the line (68.4%).

The Lobos have hit more than twice as many free throws as their opponents have taken thus far.

RIP Sarah Works…

Sarah Works, a former staffer on the UNM Lobo men’s basketball staff under Paul Weir, died this week in El Paso at the age of 53.

Works had been battling cancer and living in Las Cruces most recently, her 18-year-old son, Eagle, told me on Friday. Sarah also has a a 21-year-old daughter.

Here is a link to a story I wrote about Sarah in 2018 and what the lawyer, tribal court judge, mom, former athletic director and former high school basketball star brought to the table for the Lobos in her unique role for a few years under Weir:

On the run…

We interrupt this ETN column about Lobo hoops to draw some attention to the most dominant (and it’s not even close) college sports team in the state of New Mexico, the UNM women’s cross country team, which on Friday won the NCAA Mountain Regional Cross Country meet, held this year here in Albuquerque. The team punched its ticket to its 15th consecutive NCAA Championships and pretty thoroughly outpointed to other teams also ranked in the Top 10 nationally (the Lobos are ranked No. 2 in the country).

… OK, back to hoops.

Attendance…

The announced attendance for Friday night’s South Alabama at UNM game in the Pit: 9,466

Speaking of the crowd…

The Pit crowd was noticeably larger on Friday night than on Monday night. I say noticeably from both a visual and audible perspective.

And Lobo forward Morris Udeze noticed that 9,466 got plenty loud during the game.

“I hear them,” Udeze said. “I’m trying to call a screen — I get to the huddle and (Jaelen) House was like, ‘Bro, call the screen.’ I was like, ‘Bro. It’s loud here. I’m trying!'”

Video: Postgame with Pitino…

Here’s the video of the postgame media sessions with Lobo coach Richard Pitino and transfer forwards Josiah Allick and Morris Udeze, as posted to the Albuquerque Journal’s YouTube page:

Plus/minus…

Here are the plus/minus numbers for the Lobos for their season opening win with minutes played in parenthesis:

+10 K.J. Jenkins (16:34)
+10 Morris Udeze (32:10)
+8 Jaelen House (35:51)
+5 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (33:40)
+4 Josiah Allick (33:24)
+2 Javonte Johnson (26:33)
+2 Jay Allen-Tovar (6:53)
+1 Birima Seck (3:43)
-5 Sebastian Forsling (3:50)
-7 Donovan Dent (7:22)

Back to back for K.J. …

In back to back games, the leader in plus/minus was K.J. Jenkins off the bench for the Lobos.

K.J. was +16 in Monday’s eight-point Lobos win over Southern Utah and +10 in Monday’s six-point Lobos win over South Alabama.

Again, a lot of factors play into the plus/minus stat that a player can’t actually control, but over time, it’s a good indication of how things flow for a team when a certain player is on the court.

Now, through two games, the Lobos are +14 over the 80 minutes they’ve played.

The Lobos are +26 in the 29 minutes Jenkins has been on the court.

Line ’em up…

The Lobos had 16 unique lineup combinations in Friday’s game and played 10 players. South Alabama had 16 lineup combinations and played 9 players.

Here’s a look at a few notable UNM lineups, starting with the starters:

STARTING LINEUP
• Who: Jaelen House/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Javonte Johnson/Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: +1 (41-40)
• Time on court: 20:37
• NOTE: The starters were on the court together twice as long as they were on Monday when foul trouble threw a monkey wrench into a lot of substitution patterns. It’s clear the starting five needs to get better defensively, but having a two new starters and this being the first week, all is forgiven. … For now, anyway. This unit was offensively efficient with 1.99 points per minute.

BEST LINEUP
• Who: Jaelen House/Jamal Mashburn Jr./K.J. Jenkins/Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: +6 (11-5)
• Time on court: 3:02
NOTE: This was a tough one to determine. Two lineup combinations checked in at +6 and one was at +5. I went with this grouping that was on the floor together a little more than 3 minutes together because it will be a lineup we see regularly this season with KJ Jenkins coming in at the 3 to spell starter Javonte Johnson. There’s only one move from the starting lineup.

WORST LINEUP
• Who: Jaelen House/Donovan Dent/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Josiah Allick/Sebastian Forsling
• Point differential: -4 (0-4)
• Time on court: 1:12
• NOTE: You got a true freshman out there and a sophomore center playing his first game of the season after a ton of injuries. It’s not hard to see why this lineup wasn’t working well together.

Sign ’em up…

A cool Veteran’s Day tradition at UNM when they have games that fall on the holiday, several new enlistees joined the military on the court during halftime, met by fans with a huge ovation at the end…

Meanwhile, over on the Mesa…

No. 19 San Diego State had some dominating performances from its top two newcomers and closed strong to beat former Mountain West rival BYU, 82-75, on Friday night in San Diego.

Transfer guard Darrion Trammell (Seattle) had 21 points and four assists and transfer forward Jaedon LeDee (TCU) had 23 points and six rebounds off the bench for the Aztecs, who are now 2-0 heading into a road game Tuesday at Stanford and then the stacked Maui Invitational.

Around the Mountain…

There were six games involving Mountain West programs on Friday night and five more over the weekend that will conclude the first week of the season.

Here are the scores since Monday and the schedule for the next couple days for Mountain West men’s basketball:

TUESDAY
• San Jose State 63, Georgia Southern 48

WEDNESDAY
• South Dakota State 68, Boise State 66

THURSDAY
• Wyoming 79, Nicholls 68

FRIDAY
• UC Santa Barbara 61, Fresno State 54
• Air Force 75, Delaware 71
• Utah State 84, Bradley 62
• New Mexico 80, South Alabama 74
• Colorado State 80, SE Louisiana 69
• No. 19 San Diego State 82, BYU 75

SATURDAY
• Grand Canyon at Nevada, 1 p.m. PT/2 p.m. MT
• Bethesda at San Jose State, 1 p.m. PT/2 p.m. MT
• Incarnate Word at UNLV, 3 p.m. PT/4 p.m. MT
• Washington State at Boise State, 5 p.m. MT

SUNDAY
• Southeastern Louisiana at Wyoming, 2 p.m. MT

But who’s counting?

Through the first five days of the season, the Mountain West Conference has a 15-3 record (13-3 against Division I programs).

Speaking of around the Mountain…

There was no bigger Mountain West news on Friday than the league announcing it has hired a new commissioner in WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez.

Here’s my write up on the hiring of Nevarez, who will be just the second commissioner in Mountain West history, replacing Craig Thompson on Jan. 1, when he retires after having served as the only commissioner the league has ever had.

Stats and stats…

Here is a picture of the postgame stat sheet from Friday’s game: UNM 80, South Alabama 74

And if you prefer the digital version… New Mexico 80, South Alabama 74

Oh, KenPom…

After Friday night’s games, the KenPom.com ratings had BFFs UNM and NMSU right next to each other in the rankings:

141 New Mexico
142 New Mexico State

With 363 Division I teams to rank this year, and all the rankings being completely computer generated, it’s pretty hard to end up next to your in-state rival like that, but here we are.

Of course there’s not even a full week of data yet to make these ratings mean nearly as much today as they might a month from now, but still fun to see.

Oh, and by the way, these two teams play rivalry game 1 of 2 next Saturday in the Pit.

Up next…

The Lobos’ next game is Tuesday in Dallas against SMU at 7 p.m. local time in Dallas and 6 p.m. in this Mountain time zone.

It is the return game of a home-and-home contract that started last year when SMU went to the Pit and roughed up the Lobos 90-72.

Home » Sports » Emptying the Notebook: Lobos ‘MoJo’ frontcourt shows its potential


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