Game Recap: Utah Valley 83, New Mexico 69
A cold shooting night 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 joyous time for college basketball fans around the country. So with the regular season and Mountain West Conference Tournament at our backs, the lights inside the Pit were still on and Lobo basketball far from over.
This time hosting something fans aren’t particularly used to anymore. A postseason game, as a part of the NIT field.
After one of the best seasons of New Mexico basketball in quite awhile, the stage was set.
The Lobos were hoping to reward a loyal fan base, who showed out this season, with a home court postseason victory. The WAC regular season champions Utah Valley, had something else in mind.
The Wolverines balanced and efficient attack began early. Taking the 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 of their own, to take the 12-9 lead, their last lead of the half.
After a KJ Jenkins layup tied things up 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 disconcerning 40-25 scoreline approaching the four minute mark.
Harmon would score 16 of his 20 first half points during this time before heading to the bench after receiving a knock in the face working in the paint.
For New Mexico, they couldnt 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.
While the Lobos star guards Jalen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. were non-existent in the first half. With a combined 6 points off of 2-13 shooting from the floor.
As a whole the Lobos failed to knock down a single three. Which isn’t a huge shocker as it is something they’ve struggled with all year long.
But a lack of defense on a surging player like Harmon was damaging early. Giving Utah Valley the 13-point lead (46-33) heading to the locker rooms.
The Wolverines’ defense wasn’t exactly out of this world either. They logged a steal and a block in the twenty minutes. And only forced two New Mexico turnovers.
Shots just weren’t falling for the home team, which put them in a hole to dig themselves out of in the second-half.
The Wolverines opened the half with an alley oop dunk. From none other than Justin Harmon to big man Aziz Bandaogo. Giving Utah Valley a 15-point lead.
House broke the New Mexico scoring drought as he drove through the lane to make a contested layup. Giving the home crowd some signs of life.
Only to be followed up by a 7-0 run from three different Wolverines.
Mark Madsen’s squad took their largest lead of the game at the 15:44 minute mark, 59-39.
New Mexico got their first three point shot from Mashburn Jr. at around the 12:27 minute mark. Which capped a 7-0 run by the Lobos. Only to be shut down by a Tahj Small three pointer silencing an awakening Pit crowd.
The Lobos could never fully catch steam without an answer from the Wolverines. This was the storyline in the second half.
Former UNLV Runnin’ Rebel Trey Woodbury drove the lane to put down an exclamation point tomahawk slam bordering the 11:00 minute mark.
A testament to New Mexico’s defensive effort all night, as even the highly contested ones were going in for the visitors.
TREY WOODBURY THOWS. IT. DOWN! #SCtop10 #UVUhoops #NIT pic.twitter.com/nPPvL7QvO1
— UVU Men’s Basketball (@UVUmbb) March 16, 2023
That slam made him the third wolverine with 10+ points on the night, while also giving his team back their 20-point lead.
The Lobos went on another 7-0 run after sparked by freshman Donovan Dent’s offense.
Before a legal screen by Utah Valley’s Tim Fuller sent Dent to floor in pain and then to the locker room early.
But that was the narrative of the night.
Utah Valley answered with yet another run of their own to keep New Mexico comfortably away.
A Jaelen House three pointer at the 7:30 mark sparked a 12-6 run that revitalized the Lobos and brought the deficit to just thirteen.
But as before, Mark Madsen’s squad responded. Extending the lead to eighteen once again, with a three pointer from their hot hand Justin Harmon.
It was the perfect storm to put an end to a great season. Utah Valley would win this one, 83-69 as the final buzzer sounded. To advance to the next round to face the Colorado Buffalos.
New Mexico: F Morris Udeze
It was a tough way for the graduate transfer to end his collegiate career. But at least Udeze can say he gave it his all. Attacking the seven-foot Wolverine rim protector Aziz Bandaogo and finding a way to score when his teammates couldn’t.
Udeze with his 15th double-double of the season. 18 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. #GoLobos pic.twitter.com/pWUMvYF3vf
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) March 16, 2023
Udeze ended the night with his 18 points and a career high 19 rebounds. While shooting 57.4% (8-14) from the floor en route to his 15th double-double of the year. He will be missed in Albuquerque next year, but it was better to have his dominating style of play for just one year in the Pit than never having had it at all.
Utah Valley: G Justin Harmon
Even with a good shooting night it would have been hard to contain the performance the junior guard had Wednesday night. A career high 32-point performance off of 65% shooting from the floor (13-20) looked unstoppable. Scoring from deep, mid-range, floaters or driving at will. You name it, he also managed to attract all eyes on defense to free up opportunities for his teammates.
It was the perfect performance in one of college basketball’s hardest places to play. And because of it, his team’s postseason dreams are still a reality.
- Utah Valley’s 14-point win over a top-60 (NET) New Mexico squad inside the Pit was very impressive. Of course on the back of Justin Harmon’s career night, but they did a little bit of everything right as well. Scoring at all three levels and taking advantage of the few free throw opportunities they got. They looked like a team who could make a deep run when firing on all cylinders. They deserved the win tonight.
- It’s a very tough way to go out, out shot in your own home when absolutely nothing seems to fall. At least during the first half. It’s also tough for the players who aren’t coming back next season and fans in attendance. It’s hard to say this season was what dreams are made of. But things also have to be kept in perspective. It’s likely an analysis for another day, but the future is bright in Albuquerque, it just takes time.
The Lobos end the year with a 22-12, 8-10 recodd. Their first twenty win season and postseason appearance since 2014. Bar any massive exodus into the transfer portal, November should be an exciting time for fans in Albuquerque.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.