New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – In The Pit
Monday: New Mexico 80, Grand Canyon 68
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
The Lobo freshman continues to not look like a Lobo freshman
Once again, for the second game in a row, Cullen Neal led the New Mexico Lobos in scoring, but maybe the most impressive numbers weren’t the 18 points he scored in UNM’s 80-68 win over Grand Canyon.
Neal can shoot. That’s no secret. The rims are the same height in college gyms as they were at Eldorado High. It’s Neal’s ball handling and decision making at the D-I level that is key to him helping the Lobos in a big way. Like most freshmen, he needs to learn how to penetrate and run offense with vision as much as with dribbling.
On Monday night in The Pit, Neal saw the court like a hawk sees a field mouse. He dished out seven assists against two turnovers. And Neal wasn’t alone in tossing out some outstanding court-play numbers. Kendall Williams had eight assists, one turnover and three steals to go along with his 15 points.
“I was really happy with the way our guys played,” said Coach Craig Neal. “It was the (second) most assists we’ve had all year.”
The Lobos dished out 20 assists which helped set the Lobos up for a 52.1 percent shooting night.
“I like it when we share the ball. This team is built on unselfishness and talent,” said Kendall Williams.
Cameron Bairstow had 14 points and eight boards and Alex Kirk had 14 points, 11 boards and three blocked shots. Deshawn Delaney got his second start of the season and in a row. He had seven points, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
“That’s going to be the key the rest of the year,” Kirk said of the production help from Neal and Delaney and the UNM bench. “If it keeps getting better, they aren’t going to be able to trap Cam and me.”
The Lobos pulled away from Grand Canyon at the close of the first half and took a 46-26 lead into the locker room. “I thought that was a very, very good first half for our team,” said Coach Neal. “The second half was a different story. We still have some growing to do.”
The Antelopes cut that gap to 11 points early in the second half, but UNM again pulled away for the easy win which pushed their mark to 9-3.
“We’re in a good place now,” said Kirk. “I think DD (Delaney) is playing really well. If we can keep him moving in the right direction, he’s going to be a really good player.”
The Lobos take a break for Christmas and return to The Pit on Jan. 4 to open Mountain West play against Colorado State. The Lobos were the preseason pick to defend their MW title.
The Antelopes got 18 points from Daniel Alexander, who went 4-of-7 from 3-point range. Former Lobo Demetrius Walker scored seven points going 2-of-8 from the floor. “Once you walk down The Pit in a Lobo jersey, it’s hard to come back in another capacity,” said Coach Neal.
UNM went 6-of-12 from long range with Neal and Williams combining to go 5-of-7. UNM went 24-of-32 from the line to 8-of-14 for Grand Canyon.
“It’s good that we are finally making some shots,” said Coach Neal. “I think our guys are tough and resilient and they are getting better defensively.”
The Lobo never trailed in this non-conference game. Grand Canyon came out of the half down 20 and quickly cut their hole to 47-36 with a 10-1 run. At 16:22, UNM was back up 55-38. At the 15:55 mark, UNM held a 55-40 lead with Grand Canyon making 5-of-6 shot and UNM making 3-of-4 from the floor. A Kendal Williams’ trey at 13:08 pushed UNM up 61-42 and took a lot of energy out of the Antelopes’ surge.
UNM carried a 63-42 lead into their team huddle at the 11:56 media stop. Grand Canyon was now 6-of-12 from the field as their rally stalled against a tougher UNM defense. UNM was up 70-49 with 7:46 to play and pretty much coasted in for the win.
Neal went deep into his bench getting double-digit playing time from Cleveland Thomas (16), Obij Aget (11) and Nick Banyard (12). Guard Hugh Greenwood sat out for the second consecutive game nursing an injured wrist.
“I’m very excited with the production we are getting from both those players,” Williams said of Neal and Delaney. “Once we get Greenwood back, it’s going to boost us even further. We have the Big Three (Williams, Kirk, Bairstow) and we have some other guys who are playing really well.”
First Half: New Mexico 46, Grand Canyon 26
The Antelopes probably would have been happy to run up the ramp in a 10-point hole and had that chance before UNM threw out a run over the final four minutes to establish a 46-26 halftime count. That 20-point lead was the biggest gap of the half for the Lobos.
UNM shot 55.2 percent in the first 20 minutes to 35.7 percent for Grand Canyon. The Antelopes were shooting 45.5 percent heading into the final 3:59 before UNM clamped down defensively which sparked a late surge. UNM got 11 points from Alex Kirk and 10 from Cameron Bairstow. The Twin Towers also combined for 13 rebounds as UNM won that first-half board battle 22-11. UNM went 11-of-13 from the free-throw line to 3-of-9 for Grand Canyon.
Kendall Williams had five assists in the half and Cullen Neal had four. The two Lobos each had seven points. UNM won the points-in-the-paint battle 20-10 and had 10 fast-break points to three for the visitors from Phoenix.
The Lobos struck early and hard taking a 13-3 lead into the first media break at 15:49 with all five starters reaching the scoring column. UNM was 6-of-7 from the field for an 85.7 percentage. Grand Canyon was at 20 percent. It was a good start for first-year Lobos Cullen Neal and Deshawn Delaney. Neal had a 3-pointer and three assists and Delaney had a basket and a blocked shot.
At the 10:56 break, UNM had extended its lead to 24-10 getting a dunk from Obij Aget, a short jumper from Bairstow and a trey from Thomas. The Lobos had cooled to a smoking 62.5 percent from the field with seven Lobos in the scoring column. UNM was up 29-14 at the 7:34 break and up 38-25 with 3:59 to play. UNM was shooting 56 percent and Grand Canyon had warmed up to a respectable 45.5 percent.
Grand Canyon cut UNM’s lead to 10 points before UNM ran to the 46-26 halftime score.