Surviving two close road games, New Mexico’s men have run out to the second-best start in Mountain West play with a 3-0 conference mark.
Senior guard Kendall Williams scored a team-high 19 points in UNM’s 69-65 win at San Jose State on Saturday. The team opened its first MW road trip of 2014 with a 72-69 overtime victory at Wyoming.
Last season the Steve Alford-led Lobos began conference play with four straight wins. That run led to the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles.
UNM (12-3 overall), with coach Craig Neal now at the helm, can match that record with a home win Wednesday against UNLV. The Lobos opened this year’s conference schedule with an 80-73 victory over Colorado State at The Pit on Jan. 4.
The Lobos and the San Jose Spartans (6-10, 0-4 MWC), a Mountain West newcomer along with league leader Nevada, played a close battle that included 17 lead changes and eight ties. Neither team led by more than six points at any time.
“It’s hard in this conference on the road, no matter who you play,” Neal said.
Despite shooting only 39 percent from the field (23 of 59), the Lobos boasted a strong 3-point shooting effort in the second half, hitting seven of 10 shots from long range. In the first half, UNM made only one 3-pointer in 10, finishing 40 percent for the game.
Williams and junior guard Deshawn Delaney netted three 3-pointers apiece, Delaney finishing the game with 12 points. Junior guard Hugh Greenwood added another two triples in the second half.
Senior forward Cameron Bairstow joined Williams and Delaney in double-digit scoring with 15 points. Spartan forward Jaleel Williams, Bairstow’s assignment defensively, scored a game-high 24 points while Rashad Muhammad added 16.
SJSU did outrebound UNM by a 42-37 margin, but Neal blamed that on foul shooting. The Lobos missed 12 free throws while the Spartans attempted nine shots from the line. For the game UNM hit 15 of 27 from the line (55.6 percent) and SJSU was 6 of 9 (66.7 percent).
Only SJSU’s Isaac Thornton reached double figures in rebounding, pulling down 11. Redshirt junior center Alex Kirk and Greenwood led UNM on the boards with seven apiece.
“They only shot nine free throws, so we’re not going to have a lot of rebounds on the free-throw end,” Neal said.
San Jose State was 24 of 62 from the field (38.7 percent) and 11 of 32 from the 3-point line (34.4 percent).