When the mass exodus of the Lobo basketball roster began last spring, it seemed only logical that one of the players ready to yank the handle on the UNM ejection seat was Anthony Mathis.
A celebrated prep star out of Oregon, he had barely seen the light of day in his first two years as a Lobo in then-head coach Craig Neal’s system. He appeared in just 35 games without a single start as a freshman and sophomore, averaging just 2.4 points and 6.5 minutes — most of it garbage time — in the process.
Instead of leaving, the 6-foot-3 junior decided to give new coach Paul Weir a chance. It didn’t seem like a terrible idea at the time, since only four others off last year’s team decided to return.
“I don’t like talking about the last two years,” Mathis said.
Instead, he’s much happier talking about being happy. A starter in 10 of New Mexico’s first 27 games, he has skyrocketed from forgotten benchwarmer to the team’s leading scorer and one of the Mountain West’s most feared 3-point shooters. He is the only Lobo to score in double figures in every conference game, and his 16.6-point average in league play is easily the tops on the team.
What’s more, he’s converting from the outside at an alarming rate. He is shooting 49.1 percent from 3-point range, having made at least four 3s in eight of the 14 conference games.
He’ll be leaned on heavily once again Tuesday when the Lobos head to Laramie, Wyo., for a critical MWC matchup against Wyoming. New Mexico and the Cowboys are locked in a three-way tie for fourth place in the league standings along with UNLV. Tuesday’s game is the only one on tap in the conference, with UNLV at home Wednesday against third-place Fresno State.
The fact that he’s just part of the conversation is what puts a smile on Mathis’ face.
“Last year I just didn’t feel like myself,” he said. “I didn’t really feel like I enjoyed playing as much anymore, and coach Weir gave me an opportunity and now I’m just rolling with it.”
Mathis admits he’s only as good as the guys feeding him the ball. Basically a spot-up shooter, he’s not the type of guard who can create his own shot off the dribble or from his own ball movement.
“I’m at my best if my teammates can give me that open pass and give me a chance to put the ball up,” he said.
The fact that he’s doing it with such regularity is a big reason UNM is the surprise team in the Mountain West and still in the race despite not being above .500 since the first week of the season.
“I’m having fun,” Mathis said. “Being out there and helping, contributing is a big part of that.”
New Mexico (13-14, 8-6 MWC) at Wyoming (17-10, 8-6), 7 p.m. Tuesday in Laramie, Wyo.
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