The New Mexico men’s basketball team saw marked improvement over its performance against Brigham Young University in last month’s exhibition game, shooting the ball efficiently en route to a 147-76 whipping of Northern New Mexico.
The 147 points was a program record for points scored in a single game and the 71 point margin of victory tied a school record as well.
The University of New Mexico (1-0, 0-0 MW) played harassing defense and forced turnovers to seize early control of the game and cruise to victory.
Head coach Paul Weir said he was pleased with the effort and thought the players had fun in what was a debut for many of them, but the focus in already on the next opponent.
“Obviously the kind of offensive effort we’ve been looking for,” the head coach said. “We’re thankful that we’re shooting the ball the way we are.”
He said there were a lot of things the team did well, but there are still areas for improvement, and the goal will be to clean up some of the mistakes. Weir said there were some stretches in the game where the team didn’t execute the way it needed to.
Northern New Mexico actually scored the first bucket of the game, a three-pointer by sophomore Bryce Simmons. But the Lobos answered with a nifty reverse layup by Antino Jackson to put UNM on the board and make the score 3-2.
The Lobos didn’t trail for long — Northern New Mexico lead the game for a brief 51 seconds before three-pointers by Dane Kuiper and Chris McNeal gave UNM an 8-5 advantage; a lead it continued to build on throughout the night.
In the BYU exhibition game, UNM shot poorly from the floor and posted an abysmal 17 percent shooting from the three-point line. On Saturday night though, things couldn’t have looked more different.
By the first media timeout, the Lobos had pulled ahead by double digits, taking a 19-7 lead at the 15:38 mark. Senior Sam Logwood came out with intensity, connecting on his first four shots to help the cause.
With under eight minutes remaining in the first halfway, the lead swelled to 44-23. And by halftime, three Lobos had double figures with Chris McNeal leading all scorers with 13 points as UNM held a huge 74-35 lead heading into the locker room.
The Lobos only made 26 of their 70 shots in the game against the Cougars but made 25 baskets in the first half alone against the Eagles. The team also doubled its made three-pointers, knocking down 10-of-20 in the opening half. UNM scored one more point (74) than it did the entire game against BYU.
Anyone who thought the Lobos were going to let off the gas in the second half was mistaken. The team continued to play hard-nosed defense and the second half numbers were essentially mirror images of the first.
Northern New Mexico had all kinds of problems dealing with full-court pressure, and the Lobos made the most of situation. By the end of the night, UNM forced 33 turnovers — which converted in 54 points.
“You can tell in the game that they are breaking down,” McNeal said of sensing when a team is struggling trying to break the full-court press.
He credited the defensive intensity to the way the team commits to things during practice — saying that practice is harder than playing the actual game.
The team did well rebounding the ball, although Weir said he’d still like to see some improvement in that category, as well as limiting turnovers on its end. The teams had almost identical offensive rebounds, but New Mexico enjoyed a 21-7 edge in second-chance scoring.
New Mexico was outstanding from the free throw line as well, going 19-of-22 as a team.
In the end, eight of the 10 Lobo players who attempted a shot ended with double-digit scoring nights. McNeal recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 assists, nailing six three-pointers along the way.
He said Weir has given the message that, when the players on the opposing team shows they are tired, it is time to keep pushing and attack.
Northern New Mexico was paced by Bryce Simmons, who had 20 points and connected on all three of his three-point attempts — but also had a game-high of seven turnovers.
New Mexico cracked the century mark after Dane Kuiper drilled a three-pointer with 12:37 remaining in the game to give UNM a 100-56 bulge. But the Lobos were just getting heated up.
The crowd of 10,695, comprised almost entirely of Lobo fans, got on their feet and perhaps made the biggest ovation when Jachai Simmons threw down a creative breakaway dunk to extend the New Mexico lead to 125-60. Later he hammered home an alley-oop that got the crowd in a frenzy again.
The 147-76 result was full of an energy and effort that fans have arguably not been accustomed to seeing over the last few seasons. Weir said he hoped the fans had a fun experience and that the team provides an exciting brand of basketball that the community can embrace and get behind.
The Lobos will host another game on Tuesday, Nov. 14 against Nebraska-Ohama with a tip-off time of 7 p.m.
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.