This one was all about the UNM Lobos simply being a bad defensive basketball team and faltering again in February.
Marvelle Harris score 21 of Fresno State’s 51 second-half points to pull away from the Lobos in the Pit, 92-82, to retain sole possession of second place in the Mountain West standings.
UNM (16-13, 9-7 Mountain West), despite a career-high scoring night for Elijah Brown, drops to the fifth spot in the standings with a week left to play, sitting only one spot ahead of the dreaded six seed, which would mean a return to the play-in round of the league tournament.
“We have to get more in tune with the scheme and we have to play through things and we have to learn how to guard,” said UNM coach Craig Neal. “We’re working on it and we’re trying to do some things. But at no time in the second half did I think we got down and guarded people and stopped them.”
In the past three games, all losses for UNM, the Lobos allowed 49, 47 and 51 points in the second halves of games, leading Neal to question his team’s effort and commitment to defense. Earlier in the week he said guys that weren’t doing what they were being asked on defense would not play.
So what happened in the second half on Saturday?
“We give up 92 points,” Neal said when asked if he pulled players who weren’t playing defense. “I was going with guys that — I pulled guys that weren’t doing what we were asking them to do. I played guys that were doing the things we were asking them to do. But it can’t happen over and over and over again. You’ll run out of guys.”
Fresno State (20-9, 11-5 MWC), a team UNM beat 77-62 in Fresno on Jan. 2, shot 50.0 percent in the game, scored 24 points off 18 UNM turnovers and hit 10-of-24 3-pointers. Harris finished with 32 points, 10 assists and three steals.
Brown, meanwhile, scored 27 of his career-high 41 points in the second half to go along with 11 rebounds, six assists and six turnovers. Tim Williams had 18 points, but was largely a nonfactor in the second half.
After UNM took a 62-61 lead with 10:22 remaining, the Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run and never relinquished the lead.
MEDIA COVERAGE: While the cherry blazer may have been a quick giveaway about just how big a game Neal and the Lobos thought Saturday’s game was, there was less belief among the media. Not only did ESPN2 use a remote broadcast crew from Bristol, Conn., to call the game from a video feed, only three writers were at the game — one from the Journal, one from the Daily Lobo student newspaper and one from The Associated Press.
ALUMNI GAME: After the success of last summer’s Lobo All-Star alumni game put on by former Lobo Cameron Bairstow and former NMSU Aggie Brandon Mason, the duo is coming back this summer with a UNM alumni vs. NMSU alumni game that was announced during Saturday’s Lobos game.
NOTES: UNM shot 62.5 percent in the first half, its best half since shooting 63.3 percent in a 43-18 first half vs. Utah State on Jan. 9. … Obij Aget has been in early foul trouble plenty this season and Saturday was no different, picking up two fouls in the first 1:16 of the game before being sent to the bench. … UNM is 3-13 in the month of February over the past two seasons.