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Lobos race past expectations and secure first-round bye in MWC tourney with lopsided win over Rams

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Wyoming
Coach Paul Weir's Lobos have won four in a row for the first time this season as they try to build momentum before the MWC Tournament.
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Exceeded expectations. Check.

Satisfied? Well, Coach Paul Weir isn’t ready to check that box yet.

The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team routed host Colorado State 108-87 on Wednesday night in Fort Collins.

The Lobos, with their high-tempo attack, surpassed the century mark for the second consecutive road conference game, the first time that has happened in school history. The Lobos have scored 100 or more points only eight times on the road in their history. Of late, the Lobos pressure defense and transition offense have led to high-scoring affairs.

UNM raced to a 21-5 lead early against the rattled Rams and extended it to as many as 30 points in the first half before taking a 58-32 lead at intermission.

A spate of Lobos turnovers to begin the second half, and a more aggressive approach on offense, helped the Rams close the deficit to 15 points in the second stanza before the Lobos countered with a couple of runs to thwart any comeback.

“On both sides of the ball, the balance we had was terrific,” Weir said on his postgame radio show.

Weir congratulated the players for getting another conference road win but lamented the team’s 18 turnovers.

“These turnovers are beginning to be a problem,” Weir said, “and we have to clean them up before we lose a game because of it.

“As Roy Williams said, ‘The best way to teach is after a win.’”

The Lobos offset their miscues and appeased their coach by forcing CSU into 19 turnovers, shot 60.7 percent from the field, outscored the Rams bench 54-24 and got a rare edge on the boards of 37-27.

The victory, a season-high four in a row for UNM, locked up a top-five seed in the Mountain West tournament and first-round bye.

The Lobos (11-6 in MWC, 16-14 overall), who were pegged to finish ninth in the preseason poll, can finish no worse than fifth in the league standings. If UNM can defeat Fresno State in their final league game, it could finish as high as tied for second with Boise State, but would be the third seed by virtue of the Broncos sweep of the Lobos.

Saturday’s regular-season finale will be an emotion-filled Senior Night for Sam Logwood, Joe Furstinger and Antino Jackson. Those three were instrumental in the latest win.

Furstinger and Logwood set the tone for the Lobos offensively in the first half with their play inside. Jackson heated up in the second half from long range to keep the rallying Rams at bay.

Furstinger led seven Lobos in double figures, finishing with a career-best 22 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.

“That’s the strongest I’ve seen him catch and turn and look to score maybe all year,” Weir said.

Logwood continued his double figures streak to five games with 15 points and he added six rebounds and three assists. Jackson scored all of his 13 points in the second half. He sank a trio of treys and nearly had a double-double with a game-high nine assists.

Anthony Mathis had an off night from beyond the arc, hitting just 2-of-9 from long range but still managed 14 points to stretch his streak of double figures to 17 games.

Others to reach double digits in points were Makuach Maluach (12), Chris McNeal (10), and Troy Simons (10).

Still, in his postgame remarks on his radio show, Weir gave his team’s performance a “B” grade.

“For Antino, Chris and Anthony to have 12 turnovers between them is just not going to be good enough for us to win a game like Saturday night (vs. Fresno State) or potentially the following week (MWC Tournament).”

It has been a rough year for the Rams, whose coach, Larry Eustachy, resigned earlier this week.

But, Weir added: “I’m not going to be overly upset about a pretty significant win on the road in conference. … I don’t care what’s going on with anybody. Wins in February are hard and we have to give credit to the young men for coming out fighting and getting a good win.”

MORE RECORDS

— Eleven conference wins marks the most since UNM went to the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

— The Lobos' seven players in double figures was the most in a conference game this season.

— UNM connected on a scorching 71.4 percent from the floor (20-28) in the first half, marking the highest shooting percentage in the first half this season. In addition, UNM hit 27-of-31 from two-point range for 87.1 percent, the best two-point percentage for the Lobos since the 2001-02 season.

DNP SIMMONS

Junior guard-forward Jachai Simmons did not make the trip to Fort Collins with the team. He also did not play, by coach’s decision, in the Lobos previous game, a 91-90 victory over UNLV. Simmons missed three games earlier this season to deal with a death in the family. Asked about Simmons’ absence on his postgame show, Weir said Simmons has been struggling through a rough patch and the two are trying to work through some issues in their conversations. “He’s been through a really long month or so, off the court in particular, and I think we’re kinda having conversations about what that may mean for this year, for next year, for basketball, not for basketball, being with family, not being with family. He’s a long ways away from home and there’s a lot of stuff going on. We have to kinda work through that independent of the basketball team.”

ZAGS ON THE MOVE?

A news report from the San Diego Union-Tribune that No. 7-ranked Gonzaga of the West Coast Conference has been in exploratory talks with the Mountain West Conference about the possibility of them joining the league as early as the 2019 season got the Twittersphere going full tilt. One of the more interesting takes came from Connor Hope, a blogger and college basketball analyst. He posed this question on Twitter: If you could make a “Big East of the West Coast,” which 10 teams outside the major conferences would you pick? Here are his picks:

Gonzaga

UNLV

San Diego State

New Mexico

Nevada

New Mexico State

Saint Mary’s

Boise State

BYU

Grand Canyon University