New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – In The Pit
Saturday: New Mexico 72, San Jose State 47
Wednesday: 9 p.m., Wyoming at New Mexico
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
Sometimes the stat sheet just screams at you with what is important, with what matters. There are no last-minute steals; no last-minute game-winners. There are no brilliant coaching moves to change the face of a game and no game-changing whistle from a ref.
Sometimes the outcome is determined by pure domination in so many basic categories of the game.
It was that way in The Pit Saturday night. Consider just a few stats that leaned in the Lobos’ favor in New Mexico’s 72-47 Mountain West pounding of San Jose State:
Points in the paint: 28-to-8.
Points off turnovers: 17-to-4
Second-chance points: 12-0.
Fast-break points: 10-4.
Really, the game was over when the Lobos ran out to leads of 17-3 and 20-6. Of course, there was a ton of time to play and maybe the Spartans would make every trey they threw up, but the first punch thrown was a nasty one and pretty much put the Spartans on the deck.
“If you can hit them first, that’s the first punch, and that’s important,” said New Mexico’s Alex Kirk, who returned to the lineup for 19 minutes of playing time after missing UNM’s last two road wins.
“It feels good. I can’t feel anything (refering to pain),” Kirk said of his lower leg injury. “I feel like I could have played 30 (minutes) in the past two games, but when would it have caught up to me? We took the time off and it was very, very smart.”
Coach Craig Neal said the plan was to give his 7-footer 20 minutes of playing time vs. San Jose State, now 0-10 in the MW race. It helped that UNM really wasn’t challenged by San Jose. UNM was up 37-25 at the half and held the Spartans to 22 points in the second half.
Neal used Kirk’s minutes to get eight players into double-digit minutes including Cullen Neal (26), Cleveland Thomas (15) and Obij Aget (14) off the bench.
“He (Kirk) looked like he had a lot of energy and he played with a lot of energy and did a lot of good things,” said Coach Neal. “I think he was excited to be back home and playing. I was going into the game thinking he wasn’t going to play. We met and talked about it at breakfast this morning.”
Kirk finished with 13 points and four boards. Cameron Bairstow had 14 points and seven boards. Kendall Williams was the only other Lobo in double figures with 11 points along with five assists and three steals. Hugh Greenwood had seven boards, seven assists and no turnovers – and left the game with a black eye. UNM had a season-low three turnovers to 14 for San Jose State.
“Anytime you can have 20 assists and three turnovers, that’s outstanding,” said Coach Neal. “I challenged them to hold them (Spartans) to under 50 and they did that.”
The Spartans had two players scratch into double figures and San Jose State shot 34.1 percent to 46.6 percent for UNM. UNM won the rebounding battle 40-to-26 and went 7-of-19 from 3-point range.
“I was a little worried about a lull with our team,” said Neal, who said he felt Bairstow and Williams came back from the road trip a bit tired. “We are getting better, but we have a long ways to go. We still have a lot of work to do.”
The 47 points was the fewest UNM has allowed this season.
“It’s always good to come home and play in front of The Pit crowd,” said Cullen Neal, who had eight points, four assists and no turnovers. “We just tried to make sure we came out with energy. We were just clicking on the offensive end.”
Arthur Edwards only got four minutes off the bench, but he did throw down a Pit-pleasing monster dunk after slicing through the San Jose State defense.
“I hope we can see that later on tonight,” said Kirk hoping the monster jam made the ESPN highlights.
The closest the Spartans got in the second half was 42-30 at the 15:49 mark. UNM then threw out a 10-0 run to make it 52-30. The Lobos’ biggest lead was 68-39 with 2:38 to play.
The Lobos’ win pushed them to 17-4 overall and 8-1 in Mountain West play. San Diego State, ranked No. 5 in the nation, still claims the top spot on the Mountain at 8-0 with Nevada at 7-2 and UNLV at 6-3.
The Wyoming Cowboys visit The Pit on Wednesday looking to avenge their loss to New Mexico in Laramie. The Cowboys are 5-3 and can’t afford to add a fourth loss to their MW record. That game will tip-off at 9 p.m. with the game broadcast on ESPNU.