New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – At the Charleston Classic
Sunday: New Mexico 79, Davidson 58
Up Next: 1 p.m. (MT), Saturday – San Diego at New Mexico – The Pit
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
Lobo Coach Craig Neal found out something important about his New Mexico Lobos Sunday morning in Charleston.
They bounce back nicely from a loss.
The Lobos were slapped into the third-place game in a 16-point loss to UMass on Friday and came back Sunday to close out their three-game sojourn in the Charleston Classic with a smooth and somewhat easy 79-58 roll over Davidson. UMass won the title 62-56 over Clemson.
“You don’t know year by year if your team is going to bounce back or go into a lull,” said Neal. "There has been a lot of pressure put on them and there has been a lot of pressure on me with four starters coming back. I understand that.
"I thought they would bounce back but until they do, you don't know. But I know what I'm going to get out of my four (returning starters). I'm going to get effort. I'm going to get heart. I know they care."
The Lobos got a taste of basketball from various spots on the scoreboard in Charleston as they won a nail biter in double overtime over UAB, got beat by 16 by UMass and hammered the Wildcats by 21 points on Sunday.
“It was better,” said Neal of the play of his Lobos in the win over Davidson. “I thought our defensive effort was really, really good. I’m thankful that I have a group of guys who believe in me and I’m really proud of them.”
The victory pushed UNM to 4-1 on the season as Davidson skidded to 1-5.
New Mexico was led by its Twin Tower attack of 6-foot-9 Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk. Bairstow scored 18 points with seven boards and Kirk added 16 points and 14 boards. Hugh Greenwood added 10 boards and Cullen Neal came off the bench to score an important 15 points. UNM's Kirk was named to the Classic's All-Tournament team.
"I thought they played awesome the whole tournament," said Neal of his big men. "I'm really proud of what they did because I think they sacrificed tonight their own stats. They made great passes out of the post in the second half."
The Lobos went into the game expecting Davidson to sag inside and try to smother Kirk and Bairstow on defense. The Wildcats did that, but the Lobo Towers responded by going aggressive at the basket when they had a shot and kicking it out to the edge when the middle was clogged.
Coach Neal said his big men “gave themselves up in the post,” with unselfish play but “they still had great numbers and led us to our win,” said the Lobo coach.
“We’re growing as a team. I thought we handled their pressure today. We were prepared for it. This was one of those times where we knew what we were doing.”
The Lobos were hot from the field shooting 48.3 percent while holding Davidson to 35.6 shooting. The Wildcats’ strategy was to launch from long range where they threw up 29 treys, but hit only eight of them for a 27.6 percentage.
UNM also dominated the glass 37-20, won the blocked shots category 6-0 and had nine steals to four for the ‘Cats of Davidson. The Lobos did a good job at the free-throw line going 16-of-19 for an 84.2 percentage. "I thought we finally concentrated and shot the free throw like we can," said Coach Neal.
The Lobos return to The Pit at 1 p.m., Saturday to battle San Diego of the West Coast Conference. “I’m really looking forward to getting home,” said Coach Neal.
The Lobos ran to a quick 6-0 lead behind two buckets by Kirk and a third by Greenwood. Davidson trailed 23-21 with 9:08 to go in the first half and 27-25 at the 5:56 mark. UNM drifted to its 10-point halftime lead of 39-29 off a 3-pointer by Cullen Neal.
The Lobos carried that 10-point lead into the second half and slowly pulled away for their fourth win of the season. A Kendall Williams’ dunk at the 17:26 mark of the second half handed UNM a 43-29 lead. Greenwood scored a layup at 12:40 for a 20-point lead at 51-31 and the Lobos coasted in for the third-place win.
Greenwood had a solid game for the Lobos both on the scoreboard, on the backboard and defensively.
“He has so much potential,” Coach Neal said of Greenwood. “He can guard the ball. He’s a great defender. He rebounds it. This was the first game I saw where he said, ‘I’m going to go get some rebounds.' I thought he was terrific.”