The 3s are nice.
And the floaters in the lane serve their purpose.
But there is one spot on the court, more than any other, where Elijah Brown has cemented his legacy as one of the better scoring guards in University of New Mexico basketball lore: the free throw line.
And it was that typically familiar spot — the one from where the 6-foot-4 junior has scored 453 points in his 60 games in a Lobo uniform — Brown never visited Tuesday night. Colorado State saw to that during its 68-56 victory.
He went 8-for-18 from the field and scored 20 points, but or the first game in Brown’s UNM career, he didn’t attempt a free throw. And that came three days after Fresno State held Brown, who still leads the Mountain West in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.7), to just 2-of-3 at the free throw line. He was 13-of-14 at the line in last week’s home win over then first-place Boise State.
After the Fresno State loss, Bulldogs head coach Rodney Terry essentially acknowledged the defensive book on the Lobos since senior power forward Tim Williams has been injured is to tone down the contact on Brown, live with whatever points he may get from deep jumpers, but by no means let him get into a shooting rhythm by putting him at the foul line.
And, as long as other Lobos aren’t picking up the scoring slack, opposing teams like their chances against New Mexico.
“When they try to take Elijah out of it and don’t guard some of your guys, that’s difficult,” Lobos head coach Craig Neal said Tuesday.
UNM’s 12 free throw attempts Tuesday night tied for the second lowest in the Neal era, and the seven made free throws were the third fewest.
In an offensive scheme not only geared at drawing fouls — UNM now ranks third out of 351 Division I teams in free throw rate — but specifically molded in the past two seasons to take advantage of Brown’s skill at drawing them, the recent trend of not getting their usual benefit of the friendly whistle is troubling. The Lobos are trying to tread water in the league standings until Williams returns from injury.
UNM (16-12, 9-7 Mountain West) is in a tie with Fresno State (17-11, 9-7 MWC) for the fourth and fifth place spot in the league standings with two games to play. San Diego State (16-11, 8-7 MWC), who UNM hosts March 4 in the regular season finale, is in sixth place.
The top five teams start the league tournament in the quarterfinal round on March 9 in Las Vegas, Nev. Seeds six through 11 play an extra-round game, unofficially referred to as the “play-in” round, on March 8 and would require winning four games in four days to win the tournament.
Williams will have the stress reaction in his left foot examined and X-rayed again Monday. If all goes well, he’ll be allowed to remove his walking boot and rejoin the team for next week’s regular-season finale and the MWC tournament.
If he doesn’t, the pressure to score seems likely to remain square on the shoulders of Brown and his ability to get to the free throw line.
“There’s a lot of pressure for Elijah Brown,” Neal said. “People are guarding him, they’re trying to take him away. They’re trying to take things away that we’ve done for him. Some other guys have got to step up.”
DANE ON D: As odd as it sounds, CSU’s Gian Clavell didn’t get going Tuesday night until he was facing some of the best defense he’s faced this league season by Lobo sophomore Dane Kuiper.
Clavell started the game missing his first four shots — all relatively open looks. Then came Kuiper, who had a hand in Clavell’s face for the rest of the game with tight defense, only to see the shots start to drop for the Colorado State senior.
“He’s a tough guy,” Clavell said of Kuiper “I like him.”
The effort was noticed by Neal as well. “I thought Dane was terrific tonight,” Neal said. “… Dane’s capable of doing that.”
TAKE THE PIT AWAY: CSU head coach Larry Eustachy thoroughly enjoyed his first Pit win Tuesday, and only the sixth by Colorado State in 50 games there. Eustachy felt a key was that his team made the game so un-Pit-like.
“We never let them — the crowd being ‘them’ — get in the game,” Eustachy told the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
“A couple times they took the lead, but we quickly got it back. So, we really took the Pit out of the game, and that’s the key, because you saw how loud it got the couple times they did take the lead. It made it an easier environment to play in.”
New Mexico at Wyoming
4 p.m., ESPN3.com, 770 AM, 94.5 FM