The University of New Mexico men's basketball team finally got to enjoy being the hot-shooting team to start the game, using the 3-point line and turnovers to take down Colorado State at Dreamstyle Arena Saturday evening.
New Mexico (11-11, 6-3 MW) got on the scoreboard first when senior Vladimir Pinchuk made a short jumper, and the teams both traded baskets down low.
The Rams seemed to have things figured out offensively, as Colorado State's first four field goals came off easy layups. But then UNM started building a lead — thanks to CSU getting sloppy with some of its entry passes. The turnovers became a recurring theme and often led to Lobo points at the other end.
Junior guard Troy Simons made his return to the hardwood and made an almost immediate impact. The Lobos mounted a double-digit lead just past the midway point of the second half after a Simons steal set up an Anthony Mathis 3-pointer to give their team a 25-15 advantage at the 9:43 mark.
New Mexico was shooting over 60 percent at one point in the opening half and enjoyed its largest lead of the game — the Lobos led by 15 on multiple occasions — after Simons sunk a 3-pointer of his own a minute and change later, stretching the margin to 30-15.
The Rams made a couple of runs to get within striking distance. CSU forward Deion James threw down a dunk to cap an 8-0 run and cut the lead to seven points and later pulled his team within six after he hit a jumper with 1:34 to play in the half.
But the Lobos closed out the half strong.
Simons connected on his second 3-pointer of the game and UNM made the most of a second-chance opportunity, setting up Mathis for a corner 3-pointer to end the half. The 6-0 mini-run to close things out elevated UNM to a 44-32 halftime advantage.
Junior transfer Jachai Simmons made a drive to the basket and finished at the rim for the first score in the second half, but the Lobos went cold after that, as the team missed 10 of its next 11 shots.
Fortunately for UNM, Colorado State continued to hurt itself with turnovers. The Rams had 12 turnovers in the first half and continued to have issues as that number swelled to 23 for the game.
After the game, CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said he thought his team was rattled at times. The turnovers negated a sizable rebounding advantage for the Rams and proved too much to overcome when trying to mount a comeback.
The Rams were only able to trim the Lobo lead to five points during that stretch, and that was as close as they would get. Pinchuk finally ended the nearly five-and-a-half-minute drought with a dunk, and New Mexico started making CSU pay for its carelessness with the ball.
After pulling to within 53-48, Colorado State committed turnovers on four consecutive trips down the court before finally making a layup to get off a shot attempt. But during that exchange, UNM seized the moment to jump back out to a 64-50 lead with 6:36 to play.
The Rams tried to string together one last run, but the Lobos seemed to have an answer for each basket. Lobo senior Joe Furstinger put an exclamation point on the 80-65 victory with a thundering dunk on the team's last offensive possession.
Despite being outrebounded by a margin of 35-15, New Mexico was able to withstand being thoroughly dominated on the boards, thanks to an even larger discrepancy in turnovers — holding a 30-6 edge in points scored off of them.
UNM had a very balanced attack, as four Lobos ended the night in double figures. Joe Furstinger joined Mathis and Simons with 13 points, while Antino Jackson chipped in 12.
CSU got 17 points from James to pace the Rams.
The Lobos will have a tough test ahead, as the team's next two contests will be on the road. UNM has just one win on the season outside of Dreamstyle Arena. New Mexico will face Utah State on Jan. 31 at 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.