PHOTO: Karim Ezzeddine, center with hand on chin, became an ex-Lobo on Friday but was in the Pit for Saturday’s blowout of Wyoming. (Hayden Armstrong)
By Hayden Graham Armstrong
Enchantment Sports Staff Writer
It had a little bit of everything, including — finally — a New Mexico men’s basketball victory. And an easy one at that.
On Saturday, the Lobos (9-9, 3-3 in MWC) routed their longtime conference rival, the Wyoming Cowboys, by the lopsided count of 83-53.
Coming into the game, both the Lobos and Cowboys (4-14, 0-5) were desperate for a win. The Lobos had lost three straight since their shocker over then-unbeaten Nevada in the Pit on Jan. 5, and needed a win to turn around their season. The Cowboys just need a league win, period.
Many people might think that this “beat down” was a sign of the Lobos getting back on track — but in my opinion, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
For starters, like all season long, the Cowboys were absolutely horrendous in almost every aspect. The first half was filled with possibly the number one thing that Lobo coach Paul Weir looks for in his team — turnovers by the opposing team. Wyoming finished the game with 18 turnovers, but about half of those were self-inflicted. A handful of times, the Cowboys turned the ball over before the Lobos were even able to set up their defense.
The sad part is that the Lobos ended up actually losing the turnover battle with 19 turnovers of their own. The only reason the game was still so lopsided was the fact that Wyoming’s ability to put the ball in the basket was nearly nonexistent. Even first-team all-conference guard, Justin James, was surprisingly limited to only 12 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field.
You could see the frustration in James’ eyes with missed layup after missed layup and turnover after turnover by his teammates. He sure looked like he was wishing he had declared for the draft last offseason.
James reminded me a lot of the Ruben Douglas-era during the early Ritchie McKay days. If you know what I’m talking about, you probably have a little sympathy for the guy.
Douglas was all about Douglas.
Another surprising thing was when I looked over to my right and saw recent ex-Lobo, Karim Ezzeddine, as a spectator in the stands. On Friday, UNM announced that Ezzeddine decided to leave the program and pursue a professional career in Europe.
It wasn’t all bad though. The Lobos had six players in double figures (Carlton Bragg, Vance Jackson, Makuach Maluach, Dane Kuiper, Anthony Mathis and Keith McGee). The team did a much better job in doing their part to feed the 6-foot-10 Bragg the ball, exposing the Wyoming defense throughout the game.
Another great thing we got to see on Saturday was the young walk-ons and perhaps, players that should be walk-ons, getting some quality minutes and growing in their experience at the Division I level. Even though it’s hard to believe that a program like Wyoming would be in the same boat as teams like Northern New Mexico and University of the Southwest as a team to give the players on the Lobo bench the opportunity to take the role of “mop-up duty,” but I guess all teams go through down years like this at some point. And wow, is this program ever down.
And to wrap things up, at the conclusion of the game, at Paul Weir’s press conference, a member of the media started things off by stating, “On behalf of the local media, which can sound bitchy at times, I just wanted to say thank you. Is this what we needed?” After hearing that, I really wasn’t too sure what to think of that question, statement, or whatever that was. I was just thrown off because I had no idea that we have a head speaker for the Albuquerque media.
But to answer that media member’s question (on behalf of Paul Weir)… “No, Saturday’s game was not “what we needed,” especially after blasting a team the Lobos should have blasted. UNM is still not playing close to the best basketball that we know its capable of. It has yet to consistently prove it can play the way we think it can — and should.
Hopefully one day “we” will get “what we need.” Whatever that was supposed to mean.
Hayden Armstrong is an Albuquerque native, a La Cueva (2016) graduate and UNM student. He’s also “a die-hard Lobo fan since birth.”
Hayden currently works as an intern for the popular sports and pop culture blog, Barstool Sports. He serves as a student correspondent of UNM for the “College Viceroy Program” at Barstool Sports. Providing a student’s point of view for all things UNM.
For more, follow Hayden on Instagram and Twitter.
IG: @hayden.armstrong @barstoollobos
Twitter: @h10armstrong @BarstoolLobos