Emptying the Notebook: Lobos look helpless when they can't win FT battle - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: Lobos look helpless when they can’t win FT battle

The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on the campus of Utah State University in Logan, Utah, on Feb. 1, 2023. (Geoff Grammer/Albuquerque Journal)

LOGAN, Utah — Here are some extra notes, quotes, stats and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Wednesday’s late 84-73 Lobos road loss at Utah State:

A number to know: 16

The Utah State Aggies outscored the Lobos by 16 points at the free throw line on Wednesday night — hitting a 27-of-31 (87.1%) at the line compared to just 11-of-16 (68.8%) for the Lobos.

I know, starting off ETN with a bunch of free throw talk may not be the most exciting nugget, but if you look at what it has meant to the Lobos this season and last, you’ll see there aren’t many other stats you can point to with such regular tie ins to the outcome of the game as whether or not they win at the free throw line.

And, before any of you extra-passionate Lobo fans get this confused, this is NOT a post about Mountain West officiating being out to get the Lobos. That’s simply not true. Even in the case of Pit favorites Verne Harris, Eric Curry, David Hall, or any of the other names that make some fans wake up screaming in a cold sweat at night.

The significance of the free throw discrepancy on Wednesday is this: The Lobos entire offense is predicated on their aggressive guards (Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn, Jr.) and offensively-gifted post (Morris Udeze) putting pressure on opposing teams, drawing fouls and keeping the offense moving and flowing with rhythm. Even if frequent trips to the charity stripe feel sometimes like it kills a rhythm for fans or onlookers, the reality is there’s very little that can get shooters and offenses rolling like a few trips the charity stripe.

Wednesday, that happened for one team far more than the other.

“At the end of the day, they made 27 free throws to our 11,” UNM Lobos coach Richard Pitino said. “I’m not saying it was a poorly officiated game, but it was just hard. We kept sending (them) to the foul line. They kept converting.”

UNM had 19 wins before February rolled around because of the regularity at which it gets to the free throw line compared to its opponent — one of the top margins in the entire country for the overall season.

It is why the “make more free throws than your opponent takes” saying gets thrown around a lot around the Lobos program.

When that’s not happening, it’s usually a good sign the Lobos entire offense simply isn’t performing very well — not much ball movement, too many turnovers, an over reliance on one-on-one basketball. In the first half Wednesday, for example, UNM had just 1 assist on its 10 made field goals. That’s not good offense.

And on the other side of the ball, they just kept fouling the Aggies, who slashed through the huge gaps created by their spread out offense thanks to everyone on the floor seemingly capable of knocing down a 3 at any moment.

When that free throw well runs dry for the Lobos, so do their chances of winning games.

Even just looking closely at the stat sheet from Wednesday, you’ll see UNM actually matched that 46-point first half by USU with its own 46-point second half, made more shots in the game than USU (29 to 25) and shot at a higher percentage (49.2% to 46.3%), but still lost by 11 points and never were a real threat.

Why? Getting outscored by 16 at the free throw line.

UNM entered Wednesday’s game making 17.7 free throws to their opponent’s 11.5.

So far this season, there have been five games the Lobos were outscored at the free throw line. Those five games include all for of UNM’s losses and one of it’s toughest wins of the season:

FT’s made differential
• -16 — Utah State 27, New Mexico 11 (Wednesday, LOSS)
• -4 — UNLV 18, New Mexico 14 (Jan. 7, LOSS)
• -3 — Fresno State 12, New Mexico 9 (Jan. 2, LOSS)
• -3 — Saint Mary’s, New Mexico (Nov. 30, WIN)
• -2 — Nevada, New Mexico (Jan. 23, LOSS)

And it’s not just this season. In 55 games under Richard Pitino:

• THIS SEASON: 1-4 (0.200) record when outscored at the FT line
• LAST SEASON: 3-13 (0.188) record when outscored at the FT line

The gamer…

Here is the gamer I filed from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum late Wednesday night:

Ugly PPP…

For two efficient offenses — one that plays at a very fast pace (UNM) and one that plays at an above average pace (USU), Wednesday’s 65-possession game was surprisingly slow.

Maybe the fact that there were still 157 points scored made that fact hard to realize. But that’s because both teams — yes, even the Lobos — played pretty high-level offense overall, each haveing 46-point halves.

Better, or more accuratley told, though, the Lobos played some pretty abysmal defense, especially in the first half. So much so, in fact, the FOX Sports social media team asked bluntly: “Where’s the defense at?” — a question that was fair on more than one play in the opening 20 minutes on Wednesday…

Take a look at how bad the first half was for the Lobos improved defense (yes it is still significantly improved over last season, but you could never tell that after the first half on Wednesday):

Points Per Possession
• 1st half: Utah State 1.533; New Mexico 0.871
• 2nd half: Utah State 1.086; New Mexico 1.278

To put that 1.533 points per possession first half in context for a typical UNM Lobos game, consider these numbers:

• 74.8 — Average number of possessions in UNM games this season.
• 114.7 points — What Utah State would score over the course of an entire game vs. UNM if they scored 1.533 points per possession over an average 74.8 possession game.

To say the Lobos defense was bad in the first half would be an understatement. It also looked bad in the first half at Nevada and second half Friday against Air Force.

In fact, here’s Lobo senior forward Josiah Allick talking about the Lobos defense in an interview with the Journal after Wednesday’s game:

“I sound like a broken record now, especially after the Nevada game, but our defense just did not show up in the first half.”

Bairstow vs. Bairstow…

Yes, as most know by now that familiar name Lobo fans kept hearing on the TV on Wednesday night is, in fact, related to former Lobo great Cameron Bairstow.

Sean Bairstow, a senior guard for the Utah State Aggies, may have some senior season bragging on big brother, who wasn’t at Wednesday’s game but tells me he is still hopeful to make a Lobos game in the Pit this season.

• Sean Bairstow senior season vs. UNM: 20.0 points (the teams play only once)
• Cameron Bairstow senior season vs. Utah State: 18.0 points per game (two games in 2013-14 season)

But, in fairness, here’s where it gets tricky and the brothers will have to figure it out themselves.

While younger brother averaged more in his one game season vs. UNM, big brother had games of 22 points and 14 points against the Aggies as a senior, meaning his average was just 18.0 points per game, but he did have a game with 22 points.

So, about those 3s…

As was the focus of my game preview article in Wednesday’s Journal, the 3-point shooting of the Utah State Aggies was a key for this matchup.

And why not? The team entered the game leading the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (41.8%) and was 11th in 3-pointers made per game (10.0).

So, how’d it go on Wednesday?

Well, good as far as that stat goes, but clearly that wasn’t the key to a win it was expected to be.

The Lobos actually continued their streak of now seven-consecutive games of holding teams under their season average for 3-point shooting percentage (in six of those games by a significant margin), but Utah State just tore them up elsewhere, primarily at the free throw line where UNM was outscored 27-11.

As for the streak, here it is:

• Oral Roberts: Season 38.1% — vs. UNM 25.0% (9-36)
• San Diego State: Season 36.5% — vs. UNM 25.0% (6-24)
• San Jose State: Season 33.3% — vs. UNM 18.8% (6-23)
• Boise State: Season 37.6% — vs. UNM 20.8% (5-24)
• Nevada: Season 34.1% — vs. UNM 20.8% (5-24)
• Air Force: Season 35.5% — vs. UNM 34.6% (9-26)
• Utah State: Season 42.1% – vs. UNM 35.0% (7-20)

Injury updates…

Both Birima Seck (collision) and Donovan Dent (ankle) left Friday’s win over Air Force with injuries and did not return to those games.

Both were ready to go and available for Wednesday’s game

Seck did not play in the game (only eight Lobos played). Dent played 19 minutes, 51 seconds and had four points, 1 steal, 1 block, no assists and 1 turnover.

Another number to know: 11

UNM lost Wednesday’s game by 11 points, handing the team its only double-digit loss of the season.

A loss is a loss is a loss, whether it’s by 1 point or 50. And it leads to the opposing team getting to post things like this on social media:

But, while it is ultimately worth nothing more than conversation, it still seems to be worth mentioning that the same Lobos team that seemed to have at least a handful of forgettable blowout losses each of the past seven seasons or so, made it all the way to February — through 22 games — and found a way tin win 19 games and even in their three losses had a chance to win in the final minute each time.

Wednesday was the first time they simply weren’t in it. Yes, they showed fight and won the second half 46-38, but it never really got into the true threat for a comeback stage.

Over the past several years, including last year in Logan when a 17-point halftime deficit ended up a 25-point loss for UNM, it seems the Lobos when hit with adversity of a big lead from the other team would just pack it in and get drilled. So, this season, suffering their first double-digit loss of the season in February may not mean a whole lot, but it’s at a minimum a pretty rare thing amongst their peers…

Double digit losses for Mountain West teams:
1 — UNM (Wednesday)
2 — Boise State
2 — San Diego State
2 — UNLV
3 — Nevada
3 — Utah State
5 — San Jose State
5 — Air Force
6 — Fresno State
6 — Wyoming
8 — Colorado State

In fact, the Lobos have only trailed by double digits four times all season.

Largest Lobo deficits this season (game result):

• 20 — Wednesday at Utah State (LOSS)
• 12 — Dec. 12 vs. San Francisco (WIN)
• 11 — Dec. 31 at Wyoming (WIN)
• 11 — Nov. 30 at Saint Mary’s (WIN)

Speaking of doubles…

Other than the excitement still buzzing around Logan over the summertime opening of In-N-Out Burger down the road from campus at the corner of Main Street and 400th Street where you can order double-doubles until 1 a.m., there was another double-double of note on Wednesday night.

UNM’s Morris Udeze had his Mountain West-leading ninth double-double of the season with 16 points (7-13 shooting) and 12 rebounds (4 offensive).

For Udeze, that makes 11 career double-doubles — two at Wichita State and now nine at UNM.

Top 5 vs Top 5…

Through Wednesday’s games, the top five in the Mountain West standings, and the five still hoping to build postseason resumes — Boise State, San Diego State, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah State — have the following schedule against the other top five in the standings:

• Boise State (4 — 2 home, 2 road)
(at San Diego State, vs. New Mexico, vs. San Diego State, at Utah State)

• San Diego State (4 — 1 home, 3 road)
(vs. Boise State, at Utah State, at New Mexico, at Boise State)

• New Mexico (3 — 2 home, 1 road)
(vs. Nevada, at Boise State, vs. San Diego State)

• Utah State (3 — 3 home, 0 road)
(vs. San Diego State, vs. Nevada, vs. Boise State)

• Nevada (2 — 0 home, 2 road)
(at New Mexico, at Utah State

Meanwhile, at halftime…

Not sure how to explain this, but it has been the halftime entertainment in Logan before for a UNM game and it is still impressive to watch. Whatever it is…

Mashburn scoring streak ends…

He’s still scored in double figures in a Mountain West leading (and No. 2 nationally) 43-consecutive games, but Jamal Mashburn, Jr.’s, 17 points on Wednesday night snapped for the junior guard a six-game streak of scoring 20 or more points.

He did, however, move into sole possession of 31st all-time on the Lobos scoring list (for points scored just while playing at UNM) with 1,028, passing the great Ira Harge:

30. Chad Toppert (2006-09): 1,067
31. Jamal Mashburn, Jr. (2021-present): 1,028
32. Ira Harge (1963-64): 1,016
33. Rob Loeffel (1986-89): 1,011
t34. Alex Kirk (2011-14): 1,010
t34. Rom Becker (1968-70): 1010
36. Hugh Greenwood (2012-15): 1,006

Mashburn’s breakdown overall for scoring looks like this:

• Minnesota (29 games): 237 points
• UNM (55 games): 1,028
• Total: 1,265


Jaelen House had two more steals on Wednesday and is moving up the Lobos’ single-season steals list.

Next up for Jaelen House to pass is Spider Smith and then Jaelen House (of last season):

1. Hunter Greene (1986-87) — 84
2. Kelvin Scarborough (1984-85) — 80
3. Kelvin Scarborough (1986-87) — 78
4. Phil Smith (1983-84) — 77
5. Hunter Greene (1987-88) — 70
6. Gabe Nava (1973-74) — 69
7. Jaelen House (2021-22) — 68
8. Charles Smith (1995-96) — 66
9. Jaelen House (2022-23) — 65
10. Danny Granger (2004-05) — 63


The announced attendance in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Wednesday night for UNM at Utah State: 8,851

What about back home?

The Pit’s attendance in Mountain West games continues to be second to none in terms of average home attendance, leading the league.

And that doesn’t seem to be something that will change anytime soon with UNM having four home games remaining this season.

In fact, as of Wednesday afternoon, the school announced the Feb. 25 game in the Pit vs. San Diego State is already sold out. There are student tickets yet to claim, but that’s normal for this far in advance of a game.

For those keeping track of such things (I don’t know why you would, but that’s another matter)…

Top 5 attendances in the Pit this season:

• 15,424 — Jan. 7 vs. UNLV
• 15,215 — Dec. 28 vs. Colorado State
• 15,143 — Friday vs. Air Force
• 14,566 — Jan. 20 vs. Boise State
• 14,534 — Dec. 18 vs. Iona


Earlier this week, Logan had a record-low minus-29 degrees. Tuesday, for the second day in a row, the schools, and the University, were actually shut down due to the cold. Not snow — it was actually fairly dry on the roads this trip. Things shut down just due to the cold.

Wednesday it warmed up all the way to the 20s (back to the single digits by game time, but at least we’re talking positive numbers! The real pain was more about wind than anything.

But there were scenes like this to enjoy!

VIDEO: Richard Pitino, Josiah Allick, Morris Udeze

Here is some postgame video I was able to record of my interview with Lobos coach Richard Pitino and Lobo forwards Josiah Allick and Morris Udeze after the game in Logan:


Here are the Lobos’ plus/minus numbers from Wednesday’s game with minutes played in parenthesis:

+6 Morris Udeze (29:23)
+3 Javonte Johnson (32:16)
-2 K.J. Jenkins (14:02)
-7 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (37:16)
-8 Donovan Dent (19:51)
-10 Sebastian Forsling (3:13)
-16 Jaelen House (31:13)
-21 Josiah Allick (32:46)

Line ’em up…

The Lobos had 14 unique lineup combinations in Wednesday’s game and played eight players. Utah State had 10 lineup combinations and played eight players.

The Lobos have used the same starting lineup in 22 of 23 games played this season with the lone exception being Jan. 9 when wing Javonte Johnson was out vs. Oral Roberts with an elbow injury.

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

• Who: Jaelen House/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Javonte Johnson/Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: +5 (37-32)
• Time on court: 15:58
• NOTE: Despite the slow start in the first half, some good second half minutes from the starters actually gave UNM a plus-five advantage in the 16 minutes they were on the court. The Lobo starters scored 2.3 points per minute (the defense also allowed 2 points a minute). Had foul trouble (Udeze and House each had three fouls early in the second half) not forced some early offense/defense substitutions to keep House and Udeze on the court longer, Richard Pitino likely would have stuck with his starters far more than a shade under 16 minutes. On the other hand, one of the lineups he was forced to go with was even better than the starters…

• Who: Donovan Dent/K.J. Jenkins/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Javonte Johnson/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: +10 (5:08)
• Time on court: 13-3
• NOTE: House caught some fire in the second half, but it was actually when the three-guard grouping of Dent, Jenkins and Mashburn were in that the Lobos had their best minutes. The Lobos outscored Utah State by 10 in a five-minute stretch that saw this grouping score 2.5 points per minute and not have any turnovers.

• Who: Donovan Dent/Jaelen House/K.J. Jenkins/Josiah Allick/Sebastian Forsling
• Point differential: -5 (0-5)
• Time on court: 1:12
• NOTE: Three unique lineups had a minus-5, so picking the worst is sort of splitting hairs. But this particular group neither scored, nor grabbed a rebound and committed a turnover in just over a minute together on the court.

Around the Mountain…

There was just one game around the Mountain West on Wednesday after a big Tuesday of four games. There are three games coming Friday and two more on Saturday:

• UNLV 83, Colorado State 71
• Boise State 59, Air Force 52
• Wyoming 85, Fresno State 62
• Nevada 75, No. 22 San Diego State 66

• Utah State 84, New Mexico 73

• Boise State at No. 22 San Diego State, 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT (FS1)
• Fresno State at UNLV, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT (FS1)
• Air Force at Nevada, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

• Utah State at Colorado State, 6 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)
• Wyoming at San Jose State, 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

Mountain West standings…

Here are the updated Mountain West standings through Wednesday:
8-2 Boise State
8-2 San Diego State
7-3 Nevada
7-3 Utah State
6-4 New Mexico
4-5 San Jose State
4-6 UNLV
3-7 Air Force
3-7 Fresno State
2-7 Wyoming
2-8 Colorado State

NOTE: The top five teams get a bye into the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals. Seeds 6 through 11 play in the Wednesday, March 8, opening round of games.

NET gains…

Here are what the all-important NET rankings looked like entering Wednesday night’s games:

20 Boise State
26 San Diego State
30 New Mexico
34 Nevada
38 Utah State
112 San Jose State
128 Colorado State
155 Air Force
187 Wyoming
201 Fresno State

NOTE: While a home win over a team with a NET ranking of 30 like UNM had on Wednesday would technically give Utah State its first Quad 1 victory of the season, the loss likely will drop UNM below 30 when the NET updates on Thursday, thus taking away the Quad 1 win for USU.

For inquiring minds…

The Mountain West has utilized the current 18-game, unbalanced schedule format for 10 seasons now.

In the previous nine, completed seasons with an 18-game league schedule, the conference champion (or in two seasons, co-champion) had the following number of losses:

1 loss — 1 time
2 losses — 2 times
3 losses — 4 times
4 losses — 2 times

• 2015 – Boise State and San Diego State were named co-champion with 14-4 records
• 2019 – Nevada and Utah State were named co-champion with 15-3 records

Stats and stats…

Here is the postgame stat sheet from Wednesday’s game: Utah State 84, New Mexico 73

And if you prefer the digital version of the stats, here you go: Utah State 84, New Mexico 73

Grammer’s Guesses…

Both the Guesses and my daughter’s unlucky coin flipping picks each got it wrong on Wednesday night (for the record, I didn’t think UNM would win the road game, but I was shocked it basically wasn’t competitive).

I’m down to 23-31-1 on the season and she’s at 20-34-1.

We’re bad.

Until next time…

Until next time, Dee Glen Smith Spectrum at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, …

Home » Sports » Emptying the Notebook: Lobos look helpless when they can’t win FT battle

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