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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Men's Basketball: Lobos take Mountain West opener

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Forward Cameron Bairstow attempts to block an inbound pass during the game against Colorado State on Jan. 4. Bairstow made a game-high 29 points behind 13 free throws and eight field goals as the Lobos went on to defeat the Rams 80-73 in the Mountain West Conference opener.

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New Mexico withstood a 25-point effort from Colorado State over a six-minute span to claim an 80-73 win in Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener.

The Lobos (10-3, 1-0 MW) carried a 63-48 lead to the 5:51 mark before the Rams outscored 25-17 down the stretch, an issue Craig Neal said that must be addressed. That 15-point edge was the widest margin in the game.

“We can’t get up double-figure points and not extend it out and just think we can play with people and not guard and things like that,” Neal said. “We have to get better at that.”

Colorado State (9-6, 0-2 MW) ran into difficulty containing UNM’s presence in the post. The Lobos scored 34 points in the paint and contained the Rams to 16. UNM scored 16 points in the paint before CSU made its first from close range.

The teams exchanged three ties and five lead changes over the first 8 1/2 minutes, and UNM trailed 15-13 before a 7-0 run pushed the Lobos ahead 20-15. The Lobos used that advantage to take a 39-31 halftime lead, completing 48.4 percent of their shots and holding CSU to 36.1 percent.

In the comeback attempt, Colorado State drained seven of its last 10 shots while UNM missed seven of its last 10. The Rams cut it to within 76-71 in the final 34 seconds but scored only one field goal in the final 25 seconds.

“A lot of it’s mental: being able to stay mentally engaged and not zone out in the last eight minutes of the game when you’re up by 10,” senior forward Cameron Bairstow said. “It’s something that we’ve been able to overcome so far, but it’s something we need to fix going forward because it could be a serious issue.”

Bairstow continued his 20-plus scoring output against the Rams, dropping a game-high 29 points behind 13 free throws and eight field goals. On 14 trips to the foul line, he set career highs in free throws made and free throws attempted. His 20 attempts are the second most by a Lobo in a conference game. Ruben Douglas holds that mark with 31 free throw attempts in 2003, making 26 of them.

With 14 rebounds, also a game-high, Bairstow recorded his sixth double-double of the season.

His frontcourt mate, junior center Alex Kirk, posted his ninth double-double this season with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and he tied a season-high with five blocks. However, Kirk missed nine shots from the field.

The third leg of UNM’s big three scorers, senior guard Kendall Williams, netted 22 points. He nearly completed a triple-double with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Bairstow, Williams and Kirk combined sank 19 of their 45 attempts from the field. Bairstow and Williams combined for 21 of 30 from the foul line; Kirk did not make a trip to the line.

The game marked the return for junior guard Hugh Greenwood, UNM’s starting point guard. He missed the last three games after being sidelined with a wrist injury. He scored eight points, including two 3-pointers.

“Just good old Green,” Williams said. “Fifty percent from the field, 50 percent from three point, great defense, great assisting, just his presence. I said it before, before the game, having him back – his presence. He takes up a lot of the floor. So I think that just helps a lot. It stabilizes our team.”

CSU placed three in double-figure scoring, led by guard Daniel Bejarano scoring 25. Forward J.J. Avila added 14 points while guard Jon De Ciman had 13. The Rams finished with 25 of 67 from the field (37.3 percent), 8 of 20 from the 3-point line (40 percent) and 15 of 20 from the foul line (75 percent).

The Lobos countered hitting 27 of 63 on field goals (42.9 percent), 5 of 18 on 3-pointers (27.8 percent), and 21 of 30 on free throws (70 percent).

UNM returned to the floor after a 12-day layoff. Eight teams in the 11-team league began MW play on Wednesday. The Lobos extended their conference home win streak to 15 games dating back to last January.