New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – The Pit
Saturday: New Mexico Lobos 88, Alabama A&M Bulldogs 52,
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In trying to find minutes to dish out to his talented bench, the New Mexico starters made it easy for Coach Craig Neal.
They came out and threw Alabama A&M into a quick and deep hole allowing Neal to freely sub in New Mexico’s 88-52 romp over the Bulldogs from ‘Bama.
“I thought our veteran guys really led our younger guys in that was one of the best starts we’ve had here in a long time,” said Neal. “We imposed our will on them. I’m really proud of our guys. Yeah, I was nervous. This one counted.”
The Lobos’ season opener – and Neal’s first official game as the Lobos’ head man -- was over at the half. Well, really it was over when UNM ran up 21-3 early in the first half and continued to run and power away from A&M.
The Lobos had four players in double figures paced by Cameron Bairstow’s hot hand -- 9-of-10 from the field – to total a career-high 22 points. Kendall Williams went 4-of-4 and 7-of-8 from the line to score 17 and Alex Kirk had 16 points going 7-of-13 from the field.
Cullen Neal had 12 points off the bench going 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. Williams added seven assists and Kirk pulled down 12 boards. Bairstow had three assists and two blocked shots.
The Twin Tower combo of 7-foot Kirk and 6-9 Bairstow combined for 38 points and 23 boards.
“Those guys are hard to guard,” Neal said of his big men. “I can’t say enough about our big guys.
The Lobos had only nine turnovers but only one Lobo, Neal with four, had more than one miscue during the 40-minute run at the fast Lobo pace.
“I want to continue to play at that tempo,” said Coach Neal. “That’s the way I envision our guys playing. I think we can play better, but I was glad to get a lot of guys minutes.”
Neal played 14 Lobos with nine reaching double figures in minutes. The Lobos got 26 points off the bench and outscored A&M 40-12 in the paint and 14-5 on fast-break buckets.
“I think we could have made it a little faster,” said Neal. “When you are up a certain number, well, we could have pressed a lot more in the second half. We pushed the tempo in the first half, but once we got to a certain number, I didn’t see any reason to keep pushing it.”
The Lobos shot 58.5 percent from the field, shooting 66.7 percent in the second half. UNM shot only 4-of-13 from 3-point range. The Lobos held A&M to 26.8 percent from the field. The Bulldogs went 8-of-32 from 3-point range.
“I think we did some over passing, but that’s the sign of a good team,” said Neal. “We shot the ball and shared the ball but we also played very good defense. I thought everybody who got into the game played really hard
“Those guys (subs) are going to play hard because minutes are up for grabs.”
At the 15:53 break of the second half, the Lobos had extended to 53-30. UNM went up 59-30 before A&M banged in a trey to make it 59-33. At the 11:18 break, UNM had a 28-point lead at 66-38 and Neal had dipped deep and often into his bench.
“When we play good defense, it sets up good transition,” said Bairstow. “We did a much better job defending tonight.”
The Lobos finally cracked the 30-point-lead barrier going up 70-39 on a tip by Bairstow going for a rebound after a missed free throw. At the 7:47 break, UNM was up 72-39. At the final media break at 3:28, UNM held an 84-48 lead.
“We were so focused on Alabama A&M,” said Kirk, who said he likes the up-tempo style of his Lobos. “This is the fastest I’ve felt in a while. I think I’m going to get more and more used to it. The faster we play and the faster we get down the court just opens things for the guards.”
First Half: New Mexico 45, Alabama A&M 26
The Lobos ran to a quick 21-3 lead and stretched it into a 19-point cushion at the break. The Lobos were up by as many as 22 points in the first 20 minutes. UNM got 11 points from Williams while Bairstow and Kirk chipped in eight apiece inside. The Lobos won the rebound battle 24-14 and shot 51.7 percent from the floor.
The Bulldogs shot 26.7 percent and went 4-of-16 from behind the 3-point line trying to score over the taller Lobos. UNM went 12-of-16 from the free-throw line using their aggressive, fast-break style to get to the line. The UNM starters went 13-of-20 from the field while the Lobo bench went 2-of-9.
The Lobos came out fast and ran to a 10-0 lead before the Bulldogs hit a trey to sit down The Pit crowd. Williams and Greenwood then hit back-to-back treys to make it 16-3 heading into the first media break at 15:55. The Lobos continued to pull away. A feed from Greenwood to Kirk made it 20-3. Williams hit a single free throw at 14:10 to push UNM up 21-3. At the 11:52 break, UNM was up 21-5 with A&M getting two at the line.
The Bulldogs got their second field goal of the half at 11:13 on a follow: 21-7. The visitors from Alabama adjusted a bit to UNM’s talent, but still were no match for the Lobos in The Pit. New Mexico held a 31-11 lead at the 7:03 break. The Lobos were shooting 58.8 percent at that mark to 19 percent for A&M. The Bulldogs were 1-of-10 from behind the line. Williams had nine points and Bairstow had eight.
The Lobos continued to control the boards and the tempo. A dunk by Kirk on a follow made it 35-14. A monster jam by Kirk, who was trailing a fast break, pushed UNM to 39-19 with 2:28 to play and got The Pit rocking. UNM rolled into the half with a 45-26 lead.
NOTE: After the game, Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs presented Neal with a commemorative ball with the date and score on it in honor of his first collegiate win. Initial number raised from the camo jersey auction is $5,770. The UNM veterans resource center will be contact with the following winners early next week to arrange pick up of jersey: Dez Smith, O'Brien Marshall, John Haaland, Michelle Cunningham, Al Porter, Rod Nixon, Catherine Forman, Daniel Enriquez, Monte Skash, Richard Torre, Chris Scott, Jacob Maes, Mackensie Biship and Ned Shepard. Proceeds of the camo jersey auction will go towards the wounded warriors and the UNM veterans resource center.