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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Men's Basketball: Neal stresses focus on Senior Night

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By Aaaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM head coach Craig Neal shakes hands with Utah State graduate assistant Brian Green at the beginning of the game in The Pit. New Mexico defeated Utah State 67-58 to improve to 22-5 overall and 13-2 in the Mountain West.

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Emotions will be high for three New Mexico men’s basketball seniors playing their last home game Wednesday night, but head coach Craig Neal wants those feelings to be expressed after the game.

Neal said he would rather have the desire for another Mountain West regular-season championship remain in effect during the 40 minutes of game action against Air Force.

“I’ve just got to get them focused on what we’re doing and try to make it as stress free and emotionless about it being their last game,” he said Monday. “I want them to play with big-time emotion because we’re at home and we’re playing for a huge prize at home. I’ll try to help them with that.”

Tonight’s game will be the last at The Pit for starting guard Kendall Williams, starting forward Cameron Bairstow and walk-on Chris Perez. Both Williams and Bairstow emerged as major contributors to the program, especially this year since Bairstow is the league leader in scoring and field goal percentage while Williams leads in assists and steals.

Perez does not see much playing time during games, usually playing in the last minute of lopsided Lobo victories, but he factors into game preparations during practice.

“I thought about it a lot last week and probably the week before then,” Williams said, referring to Senior Night. “I started there (at The Pit) for a long time. Just having so much appreciation for the fans and for the court and the atmosphere. You don’t get that at a lot of places at the next level.”

Negative situations haven’t hindered the Lobos over their last two games despite having early deficits. UNM needed to overcome an eight-point margin against Utah State and a 14-point hole Sunday against Nevada.

The team hasn’t always been able to deal with such shortfalls, Neal said, citing the Dec. 14 game against Kansas as in example. In that game, the Lobos allowed a three-point deficit to a nine-point deficit and the Jayhawks surged forward for an 80-63 loss. Neal said he thinks the team learned from that experience.

“This is a unique team in the sense that when we get down, if I can calm them down, there’s not really a great panic on them or that something’s going to happen,” he said. “In years past or (against) some teams that we lost to that we should have lost to, when we got down, we would take quick shots and they would go from being down three to seven.”

The Lobos will play their last game before a potential regular-season title showdown with San Diego State this Saturday. Tonight’s foe, Air Force (11-16 overall), ranks ninth in the league standings with a 5-11 conference record.

This will be the only meeting between UNM and Air Force during the regular season. As a result of the 18-game conference schedule, each team in the Mountain West has two opponents see only once. Every other matchup has a home-and-home pairing. UNM also played Fresno State only one time.

Fan banned after SDSU incident

The fan who threw a cup of ice at the San Diego State players after the Feb. 22 game at The Pit lost his privileges to attend sporting events on UNM campus for the remainder of this school year plus 2014-15, UNM athletic director Paul Krebs announced Tuesday.

The University’s Athletic Department identified the fan as someone who purchased the ticket from a season-ticket holder. The department did not reveal the name of the banned fan nor the season-ticket holder.

“The season ticket holder is responsible for the actions of the people in their seats, and we are in discussions with them about this incident as well,” Krebs said in a statement.