No Joe meant no go for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team.
Despite finishing with six players scoring in double figures, the defenseless Lobos, minus starting center Joe Furstinger, dropped a road game to the high-flying Air Force Falcons 100-92 on Saturday night in Clune Arena.
The 6-foot-9 Furstinger, the team’s leading rebounder and shot-blocker, was out of the lineup as he served a one-game suspension from the Mountain West for a postgame shove of a Boise State player in the previous game. He’s also the team’s de facto heart and soul who brings his contagious intensity to the lineup.
Without their senior leader, the Lobos lacked chemistry and lost despite a career best 26 points from freshman Makuach Maluach, who hit 10-of-14 from the field and 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. His previous high was 21 points vs. Fresno State on Jan. 13. He broke out of a mini scoring slump, having scored a combined 8 points in the previous two games.
But it wasn’t enough for the victory because of UNM’s porous defense.
The loss dropped the Lobos to 12-14 overall and 7-6 in the crowded Mountain West middle of the pack. UNLV, Wyoming and Fresno State (7-5) sit in a three-way tie for third place in the league behind Nevada (10-2) and BSU (10-3).
The suddenly reeling Lobos and Utah State, their date at home on Valentine’s Day, are tied for sixth place in conference play.
Despite the back-to-back losses, the Lobos still find themselves within a half game of jumping back into third place, a spot they were in only a week ago.
The setback also was the second in a row for UNM when leading at the half. The Lobos suffered a 74-70 demoralizing defeat to Boise State on Tuesday, squandering a lead in the final minute.
UNM must find a way to reverse its second-half slumps if they’re going to snap their skid. Getting Furstinger back in the lineup will help.
Furstinger is the team’s primary rim protector on defense, especially when the Lobos are pressing full court. Without him, 6-8 senior guard/forward Sam Logwood tried unsuccessfully to man the paint when he normally plays out front of the press. The 6-10 freshman forward Vladimir Pinchuk returned after a three-game absence in the concussion protocol, but was ineffective inside, picking up four fouls in 7 minutes. He finished with 0 points and 1 rebound and looked out of sorts at times on the court.
Furstinger, who didn’t make the road trip to Air Force, apologized to Lobos fans for his actions against Boise State via Twitter after the loss.
“I wanted to take it back as soon as I did it,” he tweeted. “... I will learn from this and I am sorry to all of those I have disappointed.”
The Falcons opened the second half with a 12-0 run to turn UNM’s 53-46 halftime edge into a 58-53 lead with 15:17 left in the second half. The Lobos rallied with a 7-2 spurt to take their last lead of the game at 63-60 with about 12 minutes left to play. Another 15-2 spree by AFA over the next 5 minutes gave the Falcons a 10-point advantage, 75-65, that UNM wasn’t able to overcome.
BY THE NUMBERS
100 - The points the Lobos allowed to the Falcons, the most since a 104-96 loss to Tennessee Tech on Nov. 21.
68 - The Falcons scoring average entering the game.
14 - The 3’s the Lobos made on 27 attempts. UNM has made 290 treys this season, 11 shy of the school record.
18 - The times the Lobos have reached double figures in 3-pointers this season, including seven games in a row.
22 - The free throws made vs. AFA. It was their third highest total of the season.
8 - Streak of games the Lobos have been out rebounded this season. Air Force out rebounded the Lobos 33-24. The Lobos have been outdone on the glass in 18 of 26 games.