When I looked at New Mexico's schedule for December, I had little expectation that I would be able to attend a Tuesday night tussle between the home Lobos and Montana State. In fact, I was hopeful that I'd be able to go to the next New Mexico home game, where the Lobos would face off against one of my favorite mid-major teams, Missouri-Kansas City. I planned on watching that game on Thursday -- but the wonderful thing about plans is that they have a way of changing.
My plans changed on Monday night when my stepfather suggested that I could use his tickets for Montana State and he would go to the Kangaroos game on Thursday. Beggars can't be choosers, and I picked up his tickets three hours before tip-off. A fast-food dinner and 20 minutes of driving later, I was at The Pit, not expecting any of the drama I encountered when I watched New Mexico State take down their in-state rivals or any of the whimsy I witnessed when Missouri State's signmaster came to town earlier this month. Having arrived an hour early, I was the first person to arrive in my section. Given that this game was being played during New Mexico's holiday break, I figured that the crowd would be relatively sparse by local standards: 10,000 fans, maybe. To my surprise, the cherry chairbacks and benches started to fill with fans...to the point where a respectable crowd was ready for basketball 15 minutes before tip-off. The student section was nearly full, waving Australian flags to honor their Tasmanian point guard, Hugh Greenwood, whose family and friends had made the journey across the globe to watch him play tonight. The Lobo pep band were playing their normal standards (Herbie Hancock, AC/DC, and Ozzy Osbourne on shuffle and repeat, with a Cee-Lo Green "Forget You" tossed in for good measure), and both teams were out for their final warm-ups. Then it happened.
As the lights dimmed and a video presentation honoring New Mexico legend (and former NBA player) Kenny Thomas played on the north and south video boards, emergency strobe lights around The Pit flashed in time to the shrill cry of a fire alarm. A dirty secret of the newly renovated Pit is that while $60 million has allowed for a significant upgrade of the emergency alert system, it's...sensitive. Last season saw two games interrupted by the fire alarm system, once due to a cooking fire in one of the concession areas. The problems with the system had been remedied -- or so it was claimed. An automated female voice delivering an imperative for the audience to evacuate in a calm, but quick manner served as evidence to the contrary, and I made my way towards the exits. I stepped outside, hammering out a sarcastic tweet about The Pit and fire alarms, and turned around to find myself alone.
Just as $60 million can't buy a perfect emergency alert system, it can't purchase proper crowd control. The large majority of the crowd stayed seated, convinced that it was a false alarm. Begrudgingly, as it became clear that the alarm was not a momentary hiccup, the crowd filed out slowly. Most huddled directly in front of The Pit's entryways -- some even stayed standing in the concourse. I looked at my watch, reminded of a line from a Wes Anderson film: "Four minutes, forty-eight seconds. We're all dead. Burned to a crisp." Disgruntled fans stood, their breath steaming into the frozen December evening, waiting for the alarm to be called off -- and nearly 20 minutes later, it was. A minor inconvenience, but still somewhat disconcerting.
Warm-ups, anthems, introductions and tip-offs went on as though nothing had happened. Montana State's leading scorer on the season, Xavier Blount, received a mildly positive reception from the partisan crowd: he was a former Albuquerque resident, playing at Highland High School with current Lobo Chad Adams until his senior year, when he moved across the country to Virginia Beach. He came into this game averaging over 12 points per game -- he would not improve on that average.
New Mexico won the opening tip, and offensive firestarter Tony Snell calmly drained a superhoop soon after. 3-0. Montana State missed on their end...another Snell superhoop. 6-0. The Bobcats from Bozeman tried for a lay-up...blocked, and almost immediately converted into yet another Snell superhoop. 9-0 New Mexico in the space of two minutes, and just like that, any drama the game may have held was extinguished. The first half was a perfect storm of lights-out shooting by the home Lobos and unfortunate ineptitude by the visiting Bobcats. Tony Snell drained six three-pointers, including his first five taken, to outscore Montana State by himself in the first half. At halftime, New Mexico led 53-16, and incredibly, people were leaving. Coats in hand, looking mildly upset at the lack of competition, people were leaving. The home crowd of over 13,000 made an impressive amount of noise as their Lobos ran rampant over Montana State in the first half, but as the second half progressed, they mailed it in -- much like the Lobos and Bobcats did, playing out the stretch as the clock dictated. Montana State never came closer than 35 points in the latter frame, but New Mexico didn't replicate their torrid first-half form either, and the result was a stalemate, played out in front of a rapidly thinning, mostly silent Pit crowd.
As the Lobos brought in their walk-on sophomore guard Chris Perez to deliver the final humiliating blow, a lay-up from a practice squad player, there were maybe a few thousand left in the stands to appreciate the moment. New Mexico, having taken their foot off the pedal long before, coasted to a 91-46 guarantee-game victory. Xavier Blount's homecoming wasn't even bittersweet; he was held to three points on 1-for-10 shooting from the field and his Bobcats finished their non-conference road trip without the marquee win they so desperately desired. Their trip to Albuquerque wasn't a drill, and unfortunately for the boys from Bozeman, they were burned by their hosts from the opening tip.