For 45 minutes on Thursday, and about 30 more on Saturday, New Mexico went toe-to-toe on the road with Fresno State.
But the team that has shown it has no margin for error this season succumbed to tired legs or tired minds down the stretch Saturday — missing shots, fouling and simply not executing — all while the Fresno State Bulldogs went 10-of-10 at the free throw line in the final 3:16 to ice a 65-55 home win in the Save Mart Center.
“At this point, we just got to finish, man,” UNM Lobos coach Paul Weir said. “I told the guys after the game, we are finishing this season. And we’ve got to work. And we’ve got to fight. And we’ve got to do everything we can. I don’t want to dwell on all the things that we can dwell on. We have to just get ready for the next game and keep pushing and plowing through this thing as best we possibly can.”
Saturday’s loss drops the Lobos to 5-11 overall and 1-11 in Mountain West Conference play, alone at the bottom of the 11-team league standings with a pair of games in Lubbock, Texas, against perennial power San Diego State next up Wednesday and Friday.
Fresno State (7-6, 5-6 MWC) out-scored the Lobos 18-4 at the free throw line on Saturday, including 17-of-19 in the second half as the Lobos’ fatigue on the defensive end started to show, often with late reaches or poor positioning, and mental mistakes.
After losing at the buzzer of Thursday’s overtime game against the Bulldogs, the Lobos didn’t lack for fight on Saturday.
A Javonte Johnson layup with 9:34 left to play pulled the Lobos to 45-44.
From that point on, UNM hit only four of its final 19 shots from the field, didn’t hit a shot in the final 2½ minutes and never seemed comfortable handling Fresno State’s full-court pressure (FSU scored 17 points off 16 turnovers).
That full-court pressure is what Weir said led to a starting lineup change — inserting Jeremiah Francis and Saquan Singleton together to have a pair of point guards to start. They combined for nine turnovers and just two assists while the guard who was taken out of the starting lineup, sophomore Kurt Wegscheider had arguably his best game as a Lobo with 10 points, including 2-of-3 3-pointers, eight rebounds and four steals in 24 minutes.
“I think we didn’t put things together to get out of press like we are supposed to do,” Wegscheider said. “… This is on the players because the coach always say you have to be ready. ”
Earlier in the day, freshman point guard Nolan Dorsey announced he will transfer and freshman former starter Isaiah Marin was sick and remained in Albuquerque for this trip. So while Wegscheider’s emergence was a welcome sign, the UNM coaching staff’s inability to know what to expect game to game from him is a continued issue.
“We’ve just got to continue, as a team, to look for that leadership with that position that we so desperately need,” Weir said. “And not end up with a 16-turnover game — and nine comes from your point guards. We just have to get through a game where we get more consistent point guard play.”
Makuach Maluach (11), Francis and Wegscheduler (10 apiece) were the three Lobos to reach double-digit scoring. The Lobos also outrebounded Fresno State 40-30 and, while they held a 19-5 offensive rebounding edge, the Lobos only parlayed that into a 12-6 advantage in second-chance points.
FSU got a game-high 16 points from Junior Ballard, who hit four 3-pointers. Star sophomore center Orlando Robinson, who hadn’t been held to single-digit scoring all season before playing UNM, scored just six points before fouling out two days after a four-point performance.
BROWN OUT: Starting forward Rod Brown injured his left foot midway through the second half and was on crutches on the team’s bench at the end of the game. Weir said it would require X-rays or a possible MRI.
UP NEXT: San Diego State vs. UNM (in Lubbock, Texas), Wednesday, 9 p.m., FS1, 770 AM/96.3 FM
BOX SCORE: Fresno State 65, New Mexico 55