LAS CRUCES, N.M. — No, the reception for former Aggie head coach and current Lobo incumbent Paul Weir wasn’t a pleasant one, as the Lobos visited the Aggies on Friday night.
And no, the University of New Mexico didn’t get any love either from a hostile crowd at its rival’s home base.
Ultimately, rebounding and second chance points from the Aggies — and especially guard Zach Lofton — helped elevate NMSU (2-1) to a comfortable 75-56 victory over UNM (2-1) at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Entering Friday night, it was not unknown that Weir was the overarching theme of the matchup.
So it was only fair to ask first year NMSU head coach Chris Jans if the team was focused on said storyline prior to the Aggies’ win.
“Believe it or not, we never talked about him,”Jans said. “Our staff never talked about him, even informally. Our team never talked about him — I don’t know what they talked about when we weren’t around, but we never addressed it one time. It was business as usual.”
Lofton, a graduate student new to the NMSU program, willed his way to a game high 28 points — and the Lobos had no answer, though Weir said it’s hard to prepare for a player with the skill set he brings to the table.
“He was elite and we talked a lot about how to game plan for him,” Weir said. “And when you get up there and play him in person it’s a little bit different. I thought overall he just put a lot of pressure on our defense.”
But it wasn’t just Lofton, though, as much as it was the Lobos getting dominated on the boards. They were outrebounded 50-25 in the game, with the Aggies scoring 23 points on second chance opportunities.
Aggie senior forward Jemerrio Jones brought down a game high 16 rebounds, something Lofton said was a key to NMSU’s victory.
However, after a couple missed shots from the Aggies to open the game, senior forward Sam Logwood put the Lobos up first in the game, scoring the first four of the game to put UNM up 4-0 early on.
Eventually, the Lobos got the game up to a seven point lead a little over three minutes in, but NMSU found its groove and went on a 6-0 run shortly after a 3-pointer was made by junior guard Chris McNeal.
The run had NMSU’s crowd going. But the Aggies grabbed its first lead on a dunk from Aggie junior guard Sidy N’Dir to put them up 17-16 halfway through the first half.
Shortly thereafter, McNeal gave the Lobos the 20-19 lead on two made free throws before the Aggies throttled its way to a 27-22 lead with under five minutes to play in the first half.
Eventually, the Aggies exited the first half with a 31-28 lead over UNM, though the Lobos alleviated an even larger lead after freshman forward Vladimir Pinchuk scored in the closing seconds on a layup. Pinchuk led the Lobos with eight points in the first half.
The Aggies started where they left off, scoring six points on two 3-pointers to open up the second half of play from N’Dir and Lofton.
Junior guard Troy Simons, who had a technical in the first half picked up one in the second as well, ultimately sending him to the locker room.
NMSU maintained their lead most of the second half, but UNM got close when they brought the game within five points a little more than halfway until the end of the game.
But in the last five minutes of the game, the Aggies stepped on the throttle. After holding a 12 point lead over UNM with 5:17 to go, NMSU finished the game out scoring the Lobos 7-1 and grabbing the 19 point win at home.
As a team, UNM shot 38.5 percent from the field compared to NMSU’s 39.1 percent showing. The Aggies, however, got up 12 more shots than the Lobos.
Leading the Lobos in scoring was junior guard Anthony Mathis, who had 14 points. McNeal had 10 and Pinchuk finished with 9.
Up next for the Lobos is a home match against Tennessee Tech on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.
Matthew Narvaiz is a senior sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s and women’s basketball and baseball. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.