New Mexico is banged up right now.
Junior point guard Hugh Greenwood missed Tuesday night’s Rio Grande Rivalry rematch after enduring a wrist injury in the earlier meeting with New Mexico State. Sophomore guard Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas started against NMSU with a broken nose, though he needed to wear a protective facemask.
The loss of Greenwood contributed to UNM’s 67-61 loss to its in-state rival, head coach Craig Neal said, though he wasn’t exactly sure how much it played a factor.
It appeared to make an impact, at least in the early stages. UNM looked tentative in the game’s early stages and committed four turnovers by the first media timeout 4:20 into the contest. Over that span New Mexico State built a 12-2 lead that included seven points from forward Tshilidzi Nephawe.
The Aggies added to its advantage scoring six of the next nine points and held a 20-3 lead before UNM called a timeout. Guard Daniel Mullings then hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 23-5, the game’s largest. The Lobos have not overcome that deep a deficit since 1998.
“It’s really hard in this day and age in basketball that you get down 23-5 and come back,” Neal said. “We got off to a really bad start.”
The Lobos don’t have much experience playing without Greenwood in the lineup. Monday’s practice was the first time the Lobos took the floor without Greenwood, and the junior point guard missed his first start in 51 games. Greenwood hurt his right wrist in last Saturday’s Kansas game, and Neal said Greenwood’s evaluation is “day to day.”
Thomas also played with a face guard after breaking his nose in Monday’s practice. While taking a shot he collided with guard Arthur Edwards.
“The first time Hugh didn’t practice was yesterday, so it is new for everybody. We had a lot of freshmen and players who haven’t played a lot out on the court tonight,” Neal said. “With Hugh and Pancake’s broken nose, we aren’t getting too lucky with the injury bug right now. Yet, that is no excuse and we need to find a way to win.”
UNM never managed to get over the hump put in place by the large deficit, though the Lobos continued to chip away at NMSU. Trailing 39-26 at halftime, UNM brought the score to within five points, 59-54 with 3:16 remaining.
After a two-minute scoring lapse, Mullings hit two free throws to push the score 61-54. UNM guard Kendall Williams then converted three free throws and forward Cameron Bairstow drained a field goal to cut the margin to two. Williams stole the ball and sent it to guard Cullen Neal, who found Bairstow for the score.
UNM grabbed another steal, this time from Arthur Edwards. On the transition play, Edwards opted to pass the ball to Neal rather than take a layup, but NMSU’s Renaldo Dixon blocked Neal’s ensuing attempt.
NMSU closed out the game on foul shots, and the Lobos did not score again. UNM’s three losses this season all came while trailing at the half.
“We didn’t come out with a really good mindset, and you can see it into the game, as we should have been,” Bairstow said. “Anytime you get off to a slow start – and we were down 23-5 – it’s going to be tough. We managed to get it back to a two-point game and we just weren’t able to finish it off.”
Bairstow finished with a game-high 25 points, his fourth straight game with at least 20 points. Junior Alex Kirk posted his seventh double-double this season with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Williams netted 17 points.
Guard KC Ross-Miller paced NMSU in the scoring column with 16 points, followed by Naphawe and Mullings with 14 apiece.
UNM missed all eight 3-point attempts, ending a streak of games with at least one triple that dates back to 1991. The Lobos finished 34.6 percent from the field (18 of 52). NMSU sank seven of its 12 first-half 3-pointers but missed its five second-half attempts. The Aggies didn’t’ fare much better from the field, shooting 37.5 percent (21 of 56).