Column by Rick Wright: Lobos stayed the course, fans should too

With a minute and 48 seconds left in Saturday’s men’s basketball game between New Mexico and UNLV at the Pit and the Lobos, seven points down, dozens or maybe hundreds of fans were walking up the steps to the arena, out of the building, and into the Albuquerque night.

One could argue that these guys were the smart ones, as seven points is the lead by which the Lobos eventually lost 84-77.

I would argue the opposite – that this is a New Mexico team worth not just packing the box for, but staying for the duration, win or lose.

I would never try to tell anyone what to do with their disposable income. But Saturday’s sell-out crowd of 15,424 doesn’t, and shouldn’t, be the last such gathering this season just because (as it turns out) these Lobos aren’t a forever team.

Yes, unless you’re a humble NBA team desperate for Victor Wembanyama draft rights, winning is preferable to losing. And now that the Lobos, winners of their first 14 and making us all excited, have lost back-to-back, eyes lowered. They are 1-2 in the Mountain West Conference game. Without a doubt, their national ranking will be gone next Monday.

you are good You are not great. But you could argue, and I will, that good is great for a program that’s been going 19-35 for the past two seasons.

Men’s college basketball is competitive, but it’s also entertainment. Weren’t you entertained? I was.

Speaking of victory, or in this case the opposite, Lobo’s power forward Morris Udeze wasn’t a happy man after the game, despite his 22 points and 13 rebounds.

“We didn’t reach the intensity of (UNLV),” he said, specifically referring to a 9-0 run by the Runnin’ Rebels early in the second half that turned a 43-38 UNM lead into a 47-43 -Residue turned.

New Mexico was behind for the entire second half but fought back and reduced the deficit to a single point, 72-71, on two free throws by Jamal Mashburn Jr. 3:13 Left. UNLV (11-3, 1-2) extended their lead back to seven, prompting fans to retire at 1:48.

Game over? no A free throw by Udeze and two layups by Mashburn reduced the lead to four.

Then Mashburn was fouled by the Rebels on a 3-point shot by Elijah Harkless. Mashburn, a 79.5% foul shooter and 4-of-5 from the line in Saturday’s game up to that point, made the first of three free throws with a chance to reduce the deficit to a point with 22 seconds remaining. He missed the next two.

UNLV was 4-of-4 at the line from then on, with Mashburn and UNM’s KJ Jenkins missing jumpers. OK, game over. Now you can go home.

“…We didn’t cash out today,” Udeze said. “We usually do, but… it’s difficult.”

Lobos coach Richard Pitino took pains after the game to thank the fans for selling out the pit for the first time since 2015.

“Obviously disappointed that they had to come out of this with a loss,” he said.

Of course, fans don’t lose. They just feel that way.

When players and coaches get over defeat, their fans certainly can.

The Lobos’ next game is Monday at home to Oral Roberts, a nonconference game arranged after UNM lost their annual home-and-home series with New Mexico State to a fatal shooting in which both schools were involved.

The timing, two days after a disappointing loss, is anything but good. Sale on a Monday? Unlikely, even if the Lobos were 16-0 and even if there wasn’t a college football national title game that night.

So come or leave. Do what you want. Again, I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. But if the Lobos are back on Oral Roberts with seven points 1:48 left in the game I would suggest you stick with it.