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Memphis blues: UNM falls to Clemson in first round of NCAA Tournament

Mar. 22—MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The challenge of getting the UNM Lobos back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade was a big one.

Little did they know the challenge they'd face once they got back to the Big Dance would be even bigger.

The No. 6 Clemson Tigers were taller, more composed and just plain better than the No. 11 New Mexico Lobos on Friday afternoon, putting their first round NCAA Tournament game away early in a 77-56 route in the FedExForum.

"Certainly the wrong day to go cold," UNM coach Richard Pitino said, referring to his team's season-worst 29.7% performance, including 5-for-25 from lead guards Jaelen House (4-for-14) and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (1-for-11).

The Lobos walked off the court Friday with a 26-10 record — sixth most wins in program history, but now just 8-17 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, their last win coming in 2012.

"We just couldn't make a shot. Clemson had a lot to do with that, give them credit," Pitino said. "They're big, they're disciplined. You have to make shots against them because they really pack the paint.

"It stings right now, but extremely proud of the growth in this program from where we started to where we're at now," the third-year head coach said.

While a patented "Midrange Mash" jumper from about 17 feet gave UNM a 2-0 lead — the sort of start that led many of the Lobo fans among the announced crowd of 12,754 to breathe a sigh of relief as it looked for a moment like a continuation of last week's blitz through the Mountain West conference tournament to punch the team's ticket to the Big Dance.

The feeling wouldn't last.

Clemson (22-11) not only answered on the next possession with an Ian Schieffelin bucket to tie the game, 2-2, they never trailed again.

The Tigers, who move on to play No. 3 seed Baylor in Memphis on Sunday, used a 19-2 run that started with a P.J. Hall 3-pointer with 15:04 showing on the clock and ended with a Joe Girard III 3-pointer with 9:51 left on the clock to push their lead to 30-11.

A Donovan Dent bucket with 13:48 on the clock was UNM's only basket in that span. The Lobos missed their next seven shots. Nelly Junior Joseph's jumper in the lane at the 8:42 mark ended the 5-minute, 6-second scoring drought.

House and Mashburn missed four of those seven shots, a theme for the game.

The Tigers rank No. 22 out of 362 Division I teams in average roster height and were compared this week by the Lobos to a Boise State team (28th in height) that has given the House/Mashburn duo its worst shooting performances over the past three seasons.

The Clemson game plan was simple: Make the undersized star guards of the Lobos — primarily House (6-foot) and Mashburn (6-2) — shoot over them, not attack the basket.

"It was just really keeping them out of the paint," Clemson guard Chase Hunter said. "They're really not good shooting guards. They're guys that like to drive the ball. For us it was closing out short, making sure if it's hedging the ball screens making sure they don't get into the paint, making them find other guys for shots. We did. We executed well."

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said the coaching staff was well aware of how dangerous House and Mashburn could be, as they hit 16 shots and scored 49 points last week's Mountain West championship game to lead UNM over San Diego State.

"We really tried to eliminate their rim shots," Brownell said. "When we studied them, we just felt like they get to the rim maybe as well as almost any team we played all year, whether it's transition, whether it's offensive rebound put-backs, whether it's low-post duck-ins, escort layups off ball-screen action. That was the major focus was no rim shots."

Clemson — starting a frontcourt standing 6-10, 6-10, 6-8 — had just four blocked shots, but the Lobos outside of JT Toppin (six points, 10 rebounds) and Junior Joseph (14 points, 12 rebounds and a game-best six fouls drawn) looked intimidated to shoot around the basket. In fact, outside of Junior Joseph's 5-of-9 shooting, the rest of the Lobo roster was 14-of-75 from the field (18.7%).

UNM shot just 3-of-23 from 3-point range (13.0%) and 16-of-41 on 2s (39.0%). The team's effective field goal percentage of 32.0% in this game is the sixth worst since at least the 1999 season, according to KenPom.com.

A House 3-pointer with 1:22 left in the first half cut the Clemson lead down to 10, but that was about the last push for the Lobos.

Clemson scored the last four points of the half for a 42-28 lead and then nine of the first 11 points of the second half for a 51-30 lead with 17:11 left.

A Tru Washington 3-pointer with 13:57 left in the game was the first UNM field goal of the second half — a span without a field goal of 7 minutes, 35 seconds.

The struggles weren't just House and Mashburn.

Asked if sophomore guard Dent was healthy after a rather pedestrian six points (3-8 FG, 0-3 in the second half), one assist and two turnovers a week after he tried playing with the flu in the Mountain West championship game, Pitino said he believed so, but Dent might not have been 100%.

"He's probably a little rusty because he was sick," Pitino said. "I just thought their size really bothered us. And if you don't make a bunch of shots, you make three 3s, they're able to slap down, I think that's why some of the turnovers happened. And there wasn't a lot of room on the court. And a lot of that was them, but a lot of it was us not being able to hit shots."

The defense wasn't much better.

While the Lobos, one of the nation's leaders in steals, averaged 18.0 points off turnovers in that MW Tournament run, Clemson flipped the script on them, outscoring UNM 19-6 in that stat.

UNM had just four steals and Clemson had just nine turnovers.

Following the game in an expectedly subdued Lobos locker room, House was asked about the game and made no excuses for himself or the team, but was brief and matter of fact in his answers as his college career had just come to an end.

"They made more baskets than we made," House said. "I'm just really upset right now."

UNM brought Junior Joseph and Jemarl Baker Jr. (two points, 1-3 shooting) to the postgame press conference. Baker, the 6-foot-5 seventh-year senior who played his final game on Friday, said the Lobos were unable to play in the style that had allowed them in the past to overcome size disparities.

"We didn't turn them over the way we wanted to. Usually when we play scrappy, we turn teams over," Baker said. "That's when we can get out and run, make the plays that we make. But we didn't make them uncomfortable, and it ended up being a tough game."

Clemson was led by Hunter's 21 points to go along with a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double from Schieffelin and 14 points from Hall.

Tigers 77, Lobos 56

NEW MEXICO (26-10)

Toppin 2-7 2-4 6, Joseph 5-9 4-7 14, Dent 3-8 0-0 6, House 4-14 2-2 12, Mashburn 1-11 4-4 6, Washington 2-8 1-1 6, Amzil 1-4 1-3 3, Baker 1-3 0-0 2, Appelhans 0-0 0-0 0, Forsling 0-0 1-2 1, Webb 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-64 15-23 56.

CLEMSON (22-11)

Clark 1-2 4-4 6, Schieffelin 6-10 3-4 16, Hall 5-9 2-2 14, Girard 2-12 1-2 7, C.Hunter 8-16 4-7 21, Godfrey 3-6 0-0 6, D.Hunter 1-2 0-0 2, Wiggins 2-6 0-0 5, Beadle 0-0 0-0 0, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Latiff 0-0 0-0 0, Nauseef 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-63 14-19 77.

Halftime: Clemson 42-28. 3-Point Goals: New Mexico 3-23 (House 2-8, Washington 1-4, Toppin 0-1, Amzil 0-2, Baker 0-2, Mashburn 0-6), Clemson 7-21 (Hall 2-3, Girard 2-8, Wiggins 1-1, Schieffelin 1-3, C.Hunter 1-4, Clark 0-1, D.Hunter 0-1). Fouled Out: House, Godfrey. Rebounds: New Mexico 39 (Joseph 12), Clemson 38 (Schieffelin 12). Assists: New Mexico 6 (House 2), Clemson 16 (C.Hunter 6). Total Fouls: New Mexico 16, Clemson 20. A: 12,754 (18,119).