Game Summary: Utah Valley 83, New Mexico 69
A cold night of shooting dooms Lobos early.
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New Mexico knocked out of the first round of the NIT by a hot-handed Utah Valley.
ALBUQUERQUE, NM–It’s mid-March, a happy time for college basketball fans across the country. So with the regular season and the Mountain West Conference Tournament drawing to a close, the lights inside the Pit were still on.
This time presenting something that fans are not particularly used to anymore. A postseason game, as part of the NIT field.
After one of the best Lobo Basketball seasons in a long time, the stage was set.
The Lobos hoped to reward a loyal fan base, which has shown itself this season, with a postseason win at home. WAC regular season champions Utah Valley had something else in mind.
The Wolverines’ balanced and efficient attack started early. Taking a 9-4 lead in the first five minutes of play, with points contributed by four different players. The Lobos responded with an 8-0 run, to take a 12-9 lead, their last lead of the time.
After a layup by KJ Jenkins evened things at 14 a piece. The Wolverines would go on a scoring run, led by Justin Harmon, that would give them their biggest lead of the game. A bewildering score of 40-25 approaching the four minute mark.
Harmon would score 16 of his 20 points in the first half during this time before heading to the bench after taking a hit to the face working in the paint.
For New Mexico, they couldn’t buy a basket, especially from beyond the arc.
Big man Morris Udeze had a near double-double before halftime, with 14 points and 9 rebounds of his own.
Whereas the Wolves’ star guards Jalen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. were non-existent in the first half. With a combined 6 points from 2-13 shots from the ground.
Collectively the Lobos failed to knock down a single 3-pointer. Which isn’t a huge surprise, as it’s something they’ve struggled with all year.
But the lack of defense from an up-and-coming player like Harmon was detrimental from the start. Giving Utah Valley the 13-point lead (46-33) heading into the locker room.
The Wolverines’ defense wasn’t exactly out of this world, either. They registered a robbery and a blockade in the twenty minutes. And he only forced two turnovers in New Mexico.
The shots just weren’t falling for the home team, putting them in a hole to crawl out of in the second half.
The Wolverines opened the half with an alley oop dunk. From none other than Justin Harmon to the great man Aziz Bandaogo. Giving Utah Valley a 15-point lead.
House broke New Mexico’s scoring drought when he drove down the lane to make a contested layup.
Only to be followed by a 7-0 run by three different Wolverines.
Mark Madsen’s team took their biggest lead of the game at 15:44, 59-39.
New Mexico got its first three-point shot from Mashburn Jr. at 12:27. Which capped a 7-0 run for the Wolves. Only to be closed out by a 3-pointer from Tahj Small to calm down a waking Pit crowd.
The Wolves could never fully come into force without a response from the Wolverines. This was the story in the second half.
Trey Woodbury drove down the lane to put down a tomahawk strike just around the 11:00 minute mark. A testament to New Mexico’s defensive effort throughout the night, even the hottest ones were coming on.
That hit made him the third wolverine with 10+ points at this point, while also giving his team back their 20-point lead.
The Lobos put together another 7-0 run after the one sparked by freshman Donovan Dent. Before a legal screen by Utah Valley’s Tim Fuller sent Dent to the ground in pain and then to the locker room early.
But that was the narrative of the night.
Utah Valley responded with another run of its own to keep New Mexico comfortably away.
Jaelen House’s 3-pointer at 7:30 sparked a 12-6 run that reinvigorated the Wolves and brought the deficit to just 13 points.
But like the rest of the night, Mark Madsen’s team responded. Extending the lead to eighteen once again, with a triple by none other than Justin Harmon.
It was the perfect storm to end a great season. Utah Valley would win this one, 83-69 when the final buzzer rang. To advance to the next round to face the Colorado Buffalos.
New Mexico: F Morris Queen
It was a tough way for transfer grads to finish their college career. But at least Udeze can say that she gave it her all. Attacking Wolverine’s seven-foot rim guard, Aziz Bandaogo, and finding a way to score when his teammates couldn’t.
Udeze finished the night with his career-high 18 points and 19 rebounds. While he was shooting 57.4% (8-14) from the ground en route to his 15th double-double of the year. He’ll be missed in Albuquerque next year, but it was better to have his dominant style of play for just one year in the pit than never have.
Utah Valley: Justin Harmon
Even with a good night of shooting, it would have been hard to contain the performance the junior guard put in Wednesday night. A career-high 32-point performance on 65% shooting from the ground (13-20) seemed unstoppable. Scoring from deep, midrange, floaters or driving at will. Whatever, he also managed to draw all eyes to the defense to free up opportunities for his teammates.
It was the perfect performance in one of the toughest places to play in college basketball. And because of that, his team’s postseason dreams remain a reality.
Utah Valley’s 14-point win over a top-60 (NET) New Mexico team inside the pit was very impressive. Of course, in the aftermath of Justin Harmon’s race night, but they also did a little bit of everything right. Scoring at all three levels and taking advantage of the few free kick opportunities they had. They looked like a team that could make a deep run when firing on all cylinders. They deserved the win tonight.
It’s a very hard way to get out, shooting out in your own house when nothing seems to fall. At least for the first half. It is also difficult for the players who will not return next season and the fans present. It’s hard to say this season was the stuff dreams are made of. But you also have to keep things in perspective. That’s probably a discussion for another day, but the future is bright in Albuquerque, it just takes time.
The Lobos finish 22-12, 8-10, their first twenty-win season and postseason appearance since 2013-2014. Barring any mass exodus to the transfer portal, November should be an exciting time for fans in Albuquerque.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for the Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. He also co-hosts the “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry” college basketball podcast. He is also a member of the USWBA.
The story originally appeared on the Mountain West Wire