The New Mexican
No coach, no problem — for most of the night, anyway.
Minus head coach Richard Pitino for Saturday night’s Mountain West Conference home opener against Utah State, the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team led most of the way before falling 90-87 in overtime in The Pit.
Pitino missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols, leaving assistant coach Eric Brown in charge for at least one game. There is no timetable for Pitino’s return, although he is expected back this week.
The Lobos’ next game is Tuesday at UNLV. They return home next weekend for a Jan. 15 game against San Diego State.
Pitino tweeted before Saturday’s game: “Going stir crazy at home. Need to be at the Pit. Huge game tonight. Let’s get this Lobos!”
New Mexico (7-8, 0-2) led by as many as 17 points early in the second half, riding a wave of 17 made 3-pointers as it essentially conceded the inside game in favor of taking shots from the perimeter. More than half of their shot attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Aggies (10-5, 1-1) dominated the paint, outscoring UNM 54-20 in the lane and 23-2 on fast breaks. They never trailed in overtime after a frantic final minute of regulation saw the Lobos’ KJ Jenkins tie it at 76 with a corner 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left. Utah State made a half-court heave at the buzzer, but it was waived off when officials ruled Brown had called for a timeout before the play.
Utah State’s Justin Bean then missed a 15-foot baseline jumper to send the game into OT. Bean, who leads the MWC in scoring and rebounding, finished with 21 points — six of which came in the extra session.
The Lobos got 29 points and eight assists — both game-highs — from Jamal Mashburn Jr.
Javonte Johnson added a career-high 23 points on seven made 3-pointers. Guard Jaelen House struggled, finishing with just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting before fouling out in the final minute of overtime.
The Lobos led 42-27 at halftime, shooting 52 percent from the field. Utah State adjusted its defense to a 1-3-1 zone for extended periods of the second half, and it slowed down UNM’s 3-point attack. The Aggies used an 8-0 run to get within single digits before the first media timeout and another 8-0 run later in the half to get within 56-55.
There were five ties and five lead changes in the final seven minutes of regulation.
Utah State had six players finish in double figures on a day where half of the Mountain West’s scheduled games were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns and another featured undefeated and nationally ranked Colorado State playing just its second game in a month because of extended stretches of coronavirus postponements.
The paid attendance was 8,338. ... The Lobos attempted 17 free throws, 12 of them by Mashburn. House, who ranks No. 2 in the MWC in free throw percentage, did not get to the line. ... Bean had 11 rebounds. He came into the game averaging 10.5 per game and was the conference leader in offensive rebounding and made 3-pointers. ... New Mexico is the only team in the Mountain West with an overall losing record. Everyone else is at least two games above .500. ... Saturday’s game was the first MWC game in The Pit since Feb. 29, 2020 — just two weeks before COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the country’s major professional sports leagues, the NCAA Tournament and basically everything else for most of what remained of 2020.