Steve Alford admits he may have jinxed his team for Sunday night’s home game against Portland.
In regard to his pregame talk with his team, the UNM men’s basketball coach said he addressed the possibility of poor shooting and the team’s need to improve its defense. The Lobos had 10 of 20 shots from the 3-point line Friday against Idaho, but struggled on the defensive end at times.
“Guys, we’re going to have nights where you don’t make things,” he said. “That happens throughout the season, but what’s got to remain consistent is the defense.”
That may have gotten in the Lobos’ heads on both accounts.
UNM overcame poor shooting and a sloppy first half against Portland, but the half-court defense came through to lead the Lobos to a 69-54 win. The Lobos improved to 6-0 on the season after their second of three consecutive games at The Pit.
From the field, UNM shot 19 of 57 attempts, or 33.3 percent, and made two of its 19 shots from the 3-point arc. Senior guard Jamal Fenton shot 1 of 5 and junior guard Tony Snell was 1 of 4 from downtown. Sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood missed all five of his attempts.
But Portland’s shooting woes were worse. The Pilots hit 18 of 56 from the field, or 32.1 percent, and 1 of 10 from 3-point range.
Derrick Rodgers sank Portland’s only 3-pointer midway through the second half as Portland missed eight first-half attempts.
“Our half-court defense was really good tonight,” Alford said. “We took a lot of things away. We made it hard on them. Our 3-point defense, they get one 3-pointer on the night. We did a great job on the backboard.”
Alex Kirk led UNM on the statistics sheet. The sophomore center finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. He shot 6 of 10 from the field, and all his rebounds came on the defensive end. Kirk posted the second double-double of his UNM career; the first came in his first game as a Lobo in 2010.
“I don’t know, I’ve taken care of that (post area),” Kirk said. “I’m getting better each game like everybody keeps telling me. I’ve just got to keep getting better. The big key right now has been rebounding.”
Fenton joined Kirk in double-figure scoring with 12 points, a season high, on 4 of 13 shooting. Greenwood had 10 points on 3 of 8 attempts from the field.
UNM had a 30-27 advantage at halftime and consistently lead by as many as seven points in the first 20 minutes. The Lobos outscored the Pilots 39-27 in the second half, spurred by an early 10-0 run.
Seven of those points came on UNM’s first three possessions, including Snell’s triple.
“Coach always preaches we have to play 40 minutes. We haven’t played a full game yet,” Fenton said. “The last 20 minutes have been good to us in the last six games.”
UNM held the leading Portland scorer to single digits. Junior forward Ryan Nicholas, who entered Sunday’s contest averaging 14.3 points per game, netted eight points against the Lobos. Sophomore guard Kevin Bailey led the Pilots with 11 points but fouled out with 11 minutes left to play. Junior guard Korey Thieleke also had 11 points.
UNM junior guards Kendall Williams and Demetrius Walker played limited roles in the game as punishment for arriving late to a team meeting, Alford said. Williams, a usual starter, did not start the game and came off the bench. Walker had been a starter in the first four games, but he was moved to the bench against Idaho. As a result, he was further down in the rotation.
“I thought they responded well,” Alford said. “That’s what college is all about. The kids make some mistakes and there are consequences. They had their consequences and that’s over. Hopefully we won’t have those issues again.”
The Lobos conclude their three-game homestand Wednesday against Mercer. Both teams were at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam last weekend but did not face each other.
On Friday, UNM captured a 73-58 win over Idaho.
Men’s basketball vs. Mercer