Lobo basketball bounced back from some poor shooting and turnovers early in the game to pull away from the Evansville Purple Aces Wednesday night to get back in the win column.
UNM head coach Paul Weir said his team did a lot of things well, but still has issues hauling in defensive rebounds and protecting the paint. He said Evansville was a good test — especially defensively — and it was good to see his team respond and take the 78-59 victory.
New Mexico (3-4, 0-0 MW) got on the board in a hurry after junior guard Troy Simons came off a screen and nailed a 3-point basket just 14 seconds into the game.
But then the Lobos went cold, hitting just three of their next 13 shots. It was the kind of cold shooting that buried the team in its last game—an 80-65 loss in which UNM started just 1-for-12 and found itself in an early 24-point hole against Maryland.
It was a good thing for New Mexico that the iron was just as unkind to Evansville, which went 2-for-11 to start the game.
After both teams scored off their opening possessions, the teams combined to score just 14 points over the next eight minutes and change. Evansville enjoyed a brief 4-3 lead at the 17:28 mark after making a pair of layups, but went nearly eight minutes without scoring from the floor again.
New Mexico was able to build a double-digit lead during that stretch, but then the action picked up as the Purple Aces went on a 9-0 spurt to pull within 16-14.
The Lobos responded with a 9-2 run of their own to build the lead back up to nine, thanks to some good ball movement coupled with some missed chances by Evansville. The Purple Aces controlled the paint for the most part, but left a lot of points on the floor after missing 10 first-half layups.
Freshman Makuach Maluach played solid in the post and Jachai Simmons hit a 3-pointer to help pace the Lobos, but the Purple Aces kept hanging around.
The Lobos have struggled at times to execute at the end of the half, but got a big boost after Evansville had crept back to within six points. Junior guard Chris McNeal was fouled while sinking a deep shot from beyond the arc and knocked down the free throw to complete the 4-point play with 1:12 remaining.
After struggling to find the bottom of the net, New Mexico bounced back to make six 3-pointers, with McNeal’s make helping UNM maintain its lead and hold a 35-27 advantage at the break.
Conversely, Evansville missed all six of its 3-point attempts, but knocked down a couple early in the second half. The Purple Aces scored the first six points after halftime to make it a single-possession game, but UNM answered the call and slowly starting pulling away again.
Anthony Mathis capped a 15-6 scoring run with a 3-point basket that put UNM on top 50-39 and the Lobos led by double digits throughout the rest of the game.
New Mexico enjoyed a 24-point advantage on a couple of occasions, seemingly wearing down its opponent while not forcing things. The Lobos gave up a couple of shots toward the end, but still ended up with a 78-59 win.
UNM assisted on 23 of the 30 made baskets and committed just three second-half turnovers. New Mexico ended up shooting 49.2 percent from the floor for the game and had five Lobos in double digits, led by Sam Logwood and Troy Simons, who both had 14-point efforts.
Antino Jackson did not score from the floor for the second straight outing, but notched 10 assists and some hustle plays that played a big role.
With his team up 13 points, the guard went to the ground to force a jump ball and retain possession. Then Jackson sold out for a defensive rebound and led a fast break that spearheaded a 12-1 Lobo run that essentially iced the game.
Jackson said he gave a lot of credit to the coaches for emphasizing there are other ways to get involved in a game besides scoring. The guard said he just wanted to make plays that would have an impact on the game.
The victory snapped a four-game losing skid and gives the Lobos a chance to climb back to .500 with a road matchup against the UTEP Miners looming on Saturday, Dec. 2.
The Miners have started the season 1-5 and will host New Mexico State before welcoming the Lobos.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.