It is mostly a new-look squad, but a familiar face stepped up to play the role of hero to secure the 16th straight win in a season opener for the University of New Mexico men's basketball program.
Things didn't come easy for the Lobos as the California State University, Northridge Matadors hung tough for most of the game and tied things up after a steal led to jump shot from freshman forward Lamine Diane to make it 84-84 with 6.1 seconds remaining.
But that left UNM senior guard Anthony Mathis enough time to bring up the ball, give a little shimmy and get just enough separation to bank in a well-contested 3-pointer to win the game.
New Mexico (1-0) fell behind early in the game as the Matadors rattled off the first six points of the game, but the Lobos righted the ship and were able to amass a 16-8 lead after UNM junior Corey Manigault finished a layup at the 12:06 mark.
CSUN matched the frenetic pace and came roaring back, stringing together an 8-0 run, capped by a Terrell Gomez 3-pointer to give the Matadors a 21-19 lead with 9:18 remaining in the first half.
The Lobos appeared to have difficulty rotating and closing out on shooters at times and Cal State-Northridge took advantage, growing its lead to seven after sticking its seventh 3-pointer of the game for a 42-35 bulge.
But the Matadors did not close out the half strong and the Lobos were able to utilize the free throw line to settle down and even the score at 42 heading into the half.
Despite a larger lineup, the Lobos were ineffective at defending the long-range shots and cleaning up the boards, which created plenty of problems for the team to overcome. But head coach Paul Weir and his coaching staff showed how adept they were at making second half adjustments last season, and that appeared to remain unchanged.
The amount of 3-pointers Matadors hit in the second half — zero.
New Mexico shot 53.6 percent and out rebounded the Matadors in the second half, but also committed 13 critical turnovers after the break that allowed CSUN to hang around.
UNM saw its lead swell to 66-59 about midway through the second half after sophomore Makauch Maluach finished at the hoop while absorbing some contact and drawing a foul. He sank the ensuing free throw it looked as though the Lobos might put the game away early.
But the Matadors chipped away again, pulling within one point on a couple of occasions and eventually reclaiming the lead and stretching it to three after Diane converted another Lobo turnover into a dunk at the other end for a 75-72 advantage.
New Mexico responded with a 10-2 spurt, punctuated by a 3-ball from transfer Vance Jackson to put the Lobos up by five points.
In the final minute, Maluach drove the lane for a big layup to make the score 84-80, but CSUN answered with a layup of its own to make it a two-point game again with 30.1 seconds remaining.
The game probably should've come down to free throws at that point, which would have favored New Mexico since CSUN had shot poorly, 52.4 percent, from the charity stripe. But the Lobos coughed up the ball again and Diane paid them pay by delivering a game-tying jumper before Mathis stole quieted the crowd with the game-winner.
Diane led all scorers with 34 points, followed by his CSUN teammate Gomez who put up 21. The two combined to account for over 65 percent of their teams final score.
The Lobos were paced by Manigault's 16 points, while Maluach and Dane Kuiper chipped in 15 each. The Lobos improved to 6-0 all-time against CSUN and will face Northern New Mexico in their next game, which is an exhibition. It will take place on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.