Photo: Keith McGee (3), Carlton Bragg (35) and the Lobos demolished San Jose State 92-60 on Wednesday (Feb. 13). (GoLobos.com)
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
It took longer than expected but the New Mexico men’s basketball team eventually did what the entire league expected and buried hapless San Jose State 92-60 on Wednesday night in Dreamstyle Arena –The Pit.
In the end, the Spartans (3-20, 0-11) didn’t do anything to tarnish their reputation as one of the very worst college basketball teams in the country. But the first 17 minutes, it was tough to see much of a difference between SJSU and New Mexico (11-13, 5-7).
Missed layups, poor defense and turnovers — which have become hallmarks for the Lobos this season — were aplenty in the first half, as the teams traded the lead 11 times with seven ties.
SJSU led 30-27 when the Lobos finally got rolling. Vance Jackson, who hit three 3s in a row, drained a pair to ignite a 13-0 run in the final minutes of the first half that ended any possible upset hopes in front of an announced crowd of 10,469. In reality, there were far fewer bodies than the official number, and they produced about as much energy and noise as you would expect when one of the worst teams in MWC history comes to town.
San Jose State has lost its past two games by a combined 80 points — with those games coming against teams with a combined 22-26 record (UNM and Boise State). The Spartans have dropped 14 straight.
For the Lobos, however, there were some nice bright spots as they hope to duplicate their late-season run of last year and figure a way to contend in next month’s Mountain West Conference tournament.
New Mexico moved into a tie with Air Force for seventh in the league with six games left. Boise State (11-13, 6-5) is in sixth.
Sophomore Keith McGee just keeps improving as the Lobos’ only real point guard threat. He had a career-high 20 points, four rebounds, one assist and was 7-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He did, however, have three turnovers.
Junior Cory Manigault, who has been inconsistent all season, had a trio of strong hoops in the first four minutes of the second half when UNM went on a 13-2 run to turn it into a blowout. Manigault had 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and added six rebounds.
McGee soon chipped in with a 3 and a sweet drive for a score, and it was 62-36 — and SJSU was finished yet again.
In all, the Lobos had a 35-6 run that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the second half.
The most intriguing part of the second half was when the Spartans’ 6-foot-10 junior, Michael Steadman, had to be restrained by teammates from going after a fan during a time out. Steadman was then walked to the locker room and the fan was escorted out of the game.
Some other thoughts:
— I no longer will ask if the Lobos have finally turned the corner, because the Spartans aren’t in the same zip code, much less same block, as the rest of the league.
Not that the MWC is all that strong, as is.
— It was a victory the Lobos absolutely had to have in order to cling to any hope whatsoever of salvaging this frustrating and strange season. As Enchantment Sports has noted the past couple of weeks, the schedule is definitely favorable to the Lobos down the stretch. They even get another crack at the sputtering Spartans in a couple of weeks.
— Despite the sloppy start, the Lobos settled down and finished with just 10 turnovers and outrebounded the Spartans 44-39. UNM was 30-of-60 from the floor and 14-of-27 from 3-point land for one of its best shooting outings of the season.
— With the continuing emergence of McGee, senior shooting guard Anthony Mathis no longer needs to be tied down by playing the point as well. Mathis had 16 points off the bench, hitting 5 of 8 shots, including going 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.