Sophomore guard Dane Kuiper scored a career-high 17 points and center Obji Aget recorded a career-high seven blocked shots, but it wasn’t enough as the heavily-favored Lobos fell to the visiting UNLV Rebels 71-66 at Wise Pies Arena, AKA the Pit on Tuesday Night.
UNM started off well, with Kuiper hitting his first six shots from the field and Aget controlling the defensive paint with his shot blocking skills. The Lobos led 37-31 at the break, capped by a layup by Jalen Harris with 43 seconds left in the period.
The Rebels started off the second period hot with seven unanswered points before the Lobos finally got on the board with a jumper by Elijah Brown with 17:30 left in the game. Brown would finish the game with 13 points on only 4 of 13 shooting from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc. It was only the second time this season when Brown was unable to make a three-point basket.
UNM would make only four three-point baskets on the night, three of which came off the hand of Kuiper as part of his career night. In what turned out to be a decisive stat in the game, the Rebels managed to hit nine of their 21 three-point attempts, led by leading scorer Jovan Moore, who hit three of his six attempts.
Despite an inability to hit outside shots and contain the Rebels from making theirs, the Lobos owned a three-point lead with just under four minutes to play after Brown sunk both of his free throw attempts.
Guard Jalen Poyser would tie the game up on the next possession with a three-point basket, part of a 10-2 run by the Rebels to close out the game.
It was the third-straight loss for the Lobos and the second time in less than a week that UNM was unable to close out a game at home against an underdog. A disappointed Pit crowd booed the Lobos as the dejected squad made their way up the Pit ramp after the final seconds clicked off the clock.
“We couldn’t get anything going or stops in transition,” said Neal after the game. “They have tomorrow off to regroup and then we’ll meet on Thursday and push forward.”
The push forward may be a difficult one as the Lobos have two road games against Colorado State and conference-leading Boise State. Winning those games will be an uphill battle for a team that could not take care of business on their home floor.