Tony Snell isn’t the most outspoken player. He’s generally soft-spoken in his post-game interviews and he quietly goes about his business on the floor.
But when UNM needed a leader on the court in the season opener, the junior guard took that role.
Snell upped his aggressiveness during Tuesday’s early-morning contest against Davidson, helping UNM rally to an 86-81 victory from 16 points down. Snell recorded a game-high 25 points along with five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.
“We had a wake-up call. It was a good first-half wake-up call,” he said. “It was at that moment that I realized that I needed to step up and be more vocal and try to lead my team to play better. I just wanted to be a leader.”
A lot has been said about the void left by last year’s leading shooter and rebounder, forward Drew Gordon, and whether Snell would be able to replace that production. Comparisons between Snell and another former Lobo star, Darington Hobson, have also been made. But UNM head coach Steve Alford said weeks ago he wants “Tony to be Tony” and not try to emulate former players.
On Tuesday morning, Snell showed what kind of player he is.
He took 22 shots from the field, 12 more than any other Lobo and eight more than any Davidson player. While he only made seven field goals out of those 22 shots, he was constantly attacking. In 10 trips to the free-throw line, he made nine foul shots.
Snell also sank a huge 3-pointer with a minute to play in the game, and moments later fed junior guard Kendall Williams on a fast-break pass. Williams slammed it home to help seal the victory.
“He had a really good sophomore year and he keeps getting better,” Alford said Tuesday, referring to Snell. “His freshman year was a solid year and his sophomore year was better and now he has a really good start to his junior year. Now we have some guys who got out of the gate pretty slowly and that happens with openers.”
Free-throw shooting in general was key, especially when Davidson (1-1) found itself in foul trouble in the second half. UNM (1-0) hit 26 of 28 shots from the charity stripe in the second half and finished the game at 86.4 percent, nailing 38 of 44. Davidson was 15 of 20 from the line.
Winning its 10th straight home opener, UNM overcame a 10-0 Davidson run to start the game and had a 45-31 halftime deficit. Davidson held a 13-3 rebound advantage at one point. The Wildcats held their biggest lead at 47-31 early in the second half, before UNM rallied.
“Openers are difficult and really hard,” Alford said. “Davidson has had an opener and Davidson is an outstanding team. We knew they were good from watching them on tape from last year, but they are even better than advertised.”
The Lobos outscored 30-17 during the first 11:20 in the second half and trailed Davidson 62-61. A minute later, sophomore Hugh Greenwood sank two foul shots to give UNM its first lead of the game.
UNM relinquished the lead one time down the stretch at 68-66, but two free throws from junior forward Cameron Bairstow and two more Williams foul shots shifted the advantage back to the Lobos. UNM’s biggest lead was six points late in the game.
After its early struggles on the boards, UNM finished with 45 rebounds, while Davidson had 28. The Lobos out-rebounded the Wildcats 42-15 during the last 31:22.
In addition to Snell, three other Lobos reached double figures in scoring. Williams netted 17 points, primarily from the foul line. He had two field goals. Sophomore post Alex Kirk added 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds, and junior guard Demetrius Walker chipped in 10 points.
Davidson junior forward De’Mon Brooks led Davidson in the scoring column with 22 points. Senior forward Clint Mann, sophomore guard Tyler Kalinoski and junior guard Chris Czerapowicz each had 12 points. Senior guard JP Kuhlman had 10 points.
From the field, UNM finished 22 of 54 (40.7 percent) and Davidson shot 27 of 64 (42.2 percent). The Lobos outscored the Wildcats in second-chance points 19-10.
Tuesday morning’s game was part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, which featured 11 games over a 24-hour period. UNM-Davidson played the second game of the marathon.
“We owed it to the fans, they came out and it was great for us to be able to give them the second half,” Kirk said. “To do it on national TV was good because we got our names out there and proved some people wrong.”