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After an unusual layoff, UNM basketball hopes to pick up steam again at the 3-day Lobo Classic

UNM’s Jamal Mashburn Jr. points to the sky as time ticks down in the pit in the Lobos’ win against Southern Utah on November 7th. (Mike Sandoval/For the diary)

Do you remember these guys?

Richard Pitino hopes so.

The UNM Lobos — the same ones who went 3-0 up with a road hit against SMU in Dallas on Nov. 15 and once again had a desperate fan base — open the three-day, four-team Lobo Classic Friday afternoon and appear to be doing one team be that hasn’t played in ages.

Aside from the literal layoff of 10 days since their last game — and 14 days since their last game in the box — the Lobo men’s basketball team, like everyone else, has had to try to digest the realities of life outside of basketball. The rivalry game they were preparing for last weekend in front of a nearly sold-out pit was abruptly cut short due to a campus shootout that killed one of their UNM classmates and hospitalized a New Mexico State Aggies player.

“Recent events, just from the standpoint of our basketball program, obviously we’ve had a great dynamic and it’s changed a bit,” Pitino said.

The second-year coach didn’t shy away from expressing his thoughts and certainly his condolences on the shootings at a press conference on Wednesday. However, being all basketball, he acknowledged that missing the NMSU game is a challenge for the team, and the program in general, which should have a showcase game in front of the kind of home crowd Pitino has worked on, to get it back in the pit for over a year.

“There was a pretty good apathy when we took the job. And we weren’t very good. And we got to a point in our fourth game (of the season) where we sold out the building,” Pitino said. “So that part of it, I’m proud of our boys that they can do that. And there I was talking about how that momentum is fading a bit (with the missed game). Now hopefully we have the team that can bring it back. We have great opportunities.”

While most have now played four, five or even six games, the Lobos are actually among the last 35 (of 363) Division I programs undefeated as of Thursday night. And UNM has shown that it can play fast, play through its guards, play through its frontcourt and in the SMU win it has shown that it can sometimes meddle with even a pretty stifling defense at best.

Beginning with Jacksonville State on Friday and moving on to North Dakota State on Saturday and Northern Colorado on Sunday, the return of the Lobo Classic presents the Lobos with a unique challenge for the first time since 1999.

“We haven’t played in a while, you know?” Pitino said. “My concern is whenever you have those long breaks you’ve lost your rhythm and you’ve fallen out of game form. So lots of challenges. Three games in a row, many challenges.”

ALLEN-TOVAR: As the Journal first reported Tuesday, senior forward Jay Allen-Tovar has left the Lobos and is on the NCAA transfer portal to play his final season of college eligibility elsewhere.

Pitino said the decision was made after the SMU win last week.

“I think Jay is a great kid,” Pitino said. “I think he has a lot of potential. He’s gotten better. Hopefully we can find a good spot for him.”

UNM is losing depth in the run-up as the high-flying, 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 15.2 minutes per game this season and led the team in blocks and rebounds last season. Birima Seck, a 6-11 sophomore, will see more minutes but the team could also be getting smaller now, leaving reserve guards KJ Jenkins and Donovan Dent with more minutes if Javonte Johnson moves from the ‘3’ to the ‘ 4” slips. sometimes.. That would allow Jenkins and Dent to get more run with top scorers Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. on the field still getting their 30+ minutes a game.

“I think Birima will get the opportunity right away,” Pitino said. “I think Eman (senior winger Emmanuel Kuac, who’s still working his way back into playing form after breaking his leg in January) – he’s feeling better, but I don’t think he’s ready to play like that anymore. …And then we have to look at Javonte (Johnson). Maybe we’re looking at Quinton (Webb, a freshman who hasn’t played this season) playing a little more small. We were at our best – it was only three games – when we were growing up.

FOOD DRIVE: There are $10 tickets to games at the Lobo Classic with a donation of two non-perishable groceries to be delivered to the Lobo Food Pantry on campus.


LOBO CLASSIC SCHEDULE

All games in the pit
FRIDAY
• Jacksonville State at UNM, 5 p.m., 610 p.m./95.9 FM, TheMW.com/watch (Stream)
• North Dakota State vs. Northern Colorado, 7:30 p.m
SATURDAY
• State of North Dakota at UNM, 5 p.m., 770 AM/96.3 FM, TheMW.com/watch (Stream)
• Jacksonville State vs. Northern Colorado, 7:30 p.m
SUNDAY
• Jacksonville State vs. North Dakota State, 3:00 p.m
• Northern Colorado at UNM, 5:30 p.m., 770 AM/96.3 FM, TheMW.com/watch (Stream)

LOBO CLASSIC TEAM CAPSULES

New Mexico Lobos
Conference: Mountain West
Record: 3:0
Coach: Richard Pitino (175-156 Season 11 overall; 16-19 Season 2 at UNM)
Rating: 84.3 ppg
Allowed points: 72.7 ppg
Leader:
• Rating – House Jaelen (20.7)
• Rebound – Josiah Allick (8.7)
• Templates – House (6.3)
Number to Know: 2.04 – UNM’s 2.04 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks 3rd out of 363 Division I programs nationally

Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Record: 2-2
Coach: Ray Harper (552-205 24th season overall; 121-78 7th season at JSU)
Rating: 77.8 ppg
Points Allowed: 68.0 ppg
Leader:
• Rating – Skyelar Potter (13.8)
• Rebound – Juwan Perdue (7.0)
• Assists – Peyton Daniels (5.0)
Number to Know: 49.6% – Almost half (49.6%) of the points JSU allows come from 3-point shots rather than 2-point shots or free throws. That 49.6% clip is the second-highest in the country against Division I opponents, though one game accounts for the majority of it (the Gamecocks allowed Alabama to hit 21 3-pointers on Nov. 18).

Northern Colorado Bears
Conference: Big Sky
Record: 1-4
Coach: Steve Smiley (34-31 3rd season at UNC and overall)
Rating: 63.2 ppg
Points Allowed: 81.0 ppg
Leader:
• Rating – Dalton Knecht (16.0)
• Rebound – Dalton Knecht (6.6)
• Assists – Matt Johnson II (4.2)
Number to know: 47.4% – In their Division I games, the Bears get 47.4% of their points from 3-pointers. That’s the fourth highest percentage of a team’s score coming from 3-pointers in the country.

North Dakota State Bison
Conference: Summit League
Record: 1-4
Coach: Dave Richman (160-101 9th season at NDSU and overall)
Rating: 70.8 ppg
Points Allowed: 81.0 ppg
Leader:
• Rating – Andrew Morgan (13.2)
• Rebound – Andrew Morgan (8.2)
• Assists – Luke Yoder (2.6)
Number to know: 9.6 – The Bison force just 9.6 turnovers per game, which ranks 342nd in the country. In pure Division I games, their defensive turnover rate of just 10.2% is the lowest among 363 Division I teams, according to KenPom.com.

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