The Lobos’ first appearance on the big stage was a Big Apple performance worthy of a chorus of New York boos and hisses.
The University of New Mexico was blown out in Monday’s semifinals of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., losing 84-59 on national television to No. 18 Auburn at Barclays Center.
Aside from a 4-0 lead to start the game and 14-all tie a few minutes later, UNM was never much of a threat in a sloppy showing that included 24 Lobos turnovers, 17 offensive rebounds for the Tigers and a barrage of Auburn 3-pointers.
“They overwhelmed us with their energy, their pop,” said UNM head coach Paul Weir.
The Tigers (6-0) will meet Richmond (5-0) in Tuesday’s championship game while the Lobos (5-2) fall into the consolation game to face Wisconsin (4-2). The Badgers were 62-52 losers to Richmond in earlier action Monday.
The two troubling things New Mexico has done all season proved more than costly against the best team they’re likely to face all season. With more turnovers than any other team in the Mountain West, the Lobos coughed it up 24 times while continuing the trend of giving up plenty of open looks from 3-point range.
Half of Auburn’s shots came from beyond the arc as they finished 12-for-38 from 3-point range. Weir said his team’s goal is to pound the ball inside when it’s on offense and do everything it can to pack bodies into the paint to protect the rim on defense.
That leaves the Lobos vulnerable to teams wanting to shoot the 3.
“We’re not a high-volume 3-point team, we’re not a high-volume anything team other than let’s get the ball to the paint, let’s rebound the basketball,” Weir said. “And at the other end of the floor we’re trying to keep the ball out of the paint. We’ve to keep our bigs out of foul trouble, we don’t have a great shot blocker at the rim. We’ve got to protect the paint first and at least own those two areas.”
The Lobos opened a 14-9 lead in the first seven minutes but managed just two buckets over the next 11 minutes as Auburn responded with a 25-4 run that took UNM completely out of it. It started with a 16-0 run in which turnovers and missed shots led to several opportunities going the other way for the Tigers.
“To start the game it was an ugly game, a very ugly game,” Weir said. “Over the course of the game our offensive struggles impacted our defense. Their offensive struggles never impacted their defense.”
Makuach Maluach scored 14 of UNM’s 24 points in the first half as Auburn took an 11-point lead into the break. The Tigers opened the second half with an 8-0 run that turned it into a rout.
The Lobos also found out what it’s like not to have JaQuan Lyle at full speed. The team’s leading scorer through the first six games at 19.5-per, he got sick on the way to New York and wound up vomiting in the locker room at halftime.
He finished 1-for-10 from the field with six rebounds, two points and three turnovers. He played briefly in the second half. Weir removed him for good with 14 minutes left.
“I probably should have just shut him down but he really wanted to go so I said, ‘OK, go out there and give it a shot,’ ” Weir said. “Right in that first couple of minutes of the second half I just figured, you’re done man. We’ve got to get you healthy and get you ready. It’s a long season and we’re not going to kill you tonight.”
Maluach didn’t score in the second half but still finished UNM’s leading scorer. Keith McGee came off the bench to score 13 points while Vance Jackson had 10 with a team-high eight rebounds. Backup point guard Zane Martin was held scoreless while committing a game-high six turnovers and committing four fouls.
Auburn got double-digit scoring from four players, including a double-double from Austin Wiley (14 and 13) and a game-high 19 points from Samir Doughty.
The Lobos still have not beaten a nationally ranked opponent in non-conference play since 2012 when they took down Cincinnati. … The Lobos had a chance to take in Sunday’s NBA game at Madison Square Garden between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. The Legends Classic is being played at Barclays Center, the home of the Nets. … Tuesday’s game will be UNM’s fourth in the last eight days, all on the road. … Auburn committed just 10 turnovers that led to 12 points for New Mexico. The Tigers had 28 points off UNM’s turnovers.
What: Legends Classic final round, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: New Mexico (5-2) vs. Wisconsin (4-2), 3 p.m. or 5:30 p.m.
Where to tune in: Live broadcast on ESPN2 and KKOB-AM 770