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Men's basketball: Purdue's size a test for Lobos

New Mexico’s schedule so far has seen more guard-oriented rosters with not much size. Saturday’s opponent, Purdue, will be much bigger.

The No. 11 Boilermakers’s starting lineup includes 6-foot-8 forward Vince Edwards, 6-9 forward Caleb Swanigan and 7-2 center Isaac Hays. It’s a much-larger starting frontcourt than UNM has seen against more undersized opponents like Loyola-Chicago and Oral Roberts.

Lobos head coach Craig Neal expects a tough task when his team travels to West Lafayette, Indiana and plays a foe he predicts will be a top 10 team in the near future. Undefeated Purdue (7-0) enters Saturday fresh off a big 72-59 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Hays serves as Purdue’s top scorer this season with 13.7 points per game. Edwards also cracks into the double-digit average at 10.3, with Swanigan netting 8.9. It’s not so much that the Lobos must stop the frontcourt, Neal said, but rather making sure to contain the other guys on the floor.

“You can't let five or six guys hurt you,” Neal said. “You know you're going to get hurt by two or three, so we'll just try to play them as well as we can and hope they don't make a lot of shots.

Seeing a larger lineup than its other opponents puts UNM (5-1) in a position where its bigs, 6-8 forward Tim Williams and 7-1 center Obij Aget, can play more attune to their natural positions. Smaller opponents tend to try to outrun the Lobos when they had the size advantage.

This will not be role reversal for Neal’s team, he said, because there won’t be that much difference in size between the two teams. New Mexico will take on Purdue size on size since Neal’s squad has that presence on the roster.

Plus Neal said he’s been happy with Williams’s play so far. Williams is on a streak of three straight double-doubles. He does not play the flashiest style – “quietly” getting 23 points and 12 rebounds against Oral Roberts, as one reporter put it – but he has emerged as a consistently potent threat.

Wiliiams pushed himself to the top on UNM’s scoring list this season, but a slim margin separates the three leading scorers. Williams nets 17.5 points per game, followed by guards Elijah Brown (17.3) and Cullen Neal (17.0).

“You're not going get a lot out of practice and you're not going to get a lot, but when it comes to game time he gets it done,” Craig Neal said, referring to Williams. “That's just the way he plays and that's his personality. As a coach, you just accept that.

UNM’s other bigs on the bench, forward Joe Furstinger and center Nikola Scekic, will likely see time as well since Purdue plays that more conventional style associated with taller players.

The only other team UNM has battled with significant size this season was in-state rival New Mexico State. Though the Lobos won that game, they found themselves in foul trouble with Aget fouling out and Williams, Furstinger and Scekic all picking up four.

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Even though Purdue boasts size, the Boilermakers can also shoot. A.J. Hammons and Raphael Davis make well more than 50 percent from the field, averaging 12.2 and 11.6 points, respectively.

Saturday’s game in West Lafayette, located outside Indianapolis, will be a homecoming for several players on the roster. Guard Sam Logwood hails from Indianapolis and Aget, originally from South Sudan, played high school ball in Indiana.

Craig Neal grew up and played his high school basketball career in Indiana. It’s also the state where Cullen Neal was born.

With that, Craig Neal has a number of connections in Indiana, a state where basketball interest elevates to another level. It’s a area of focus for Neal’s recruiting efforts, and he’s been able to bring in some players from there.

Taking his team to Indiana certainly helps the New Mexico brand and Neal would like to continue playing other opponents from that state in the future. Yet next season’s schedule appears to be booked up so it’s unclear whether playing another Indiana team will happen right away.

“We just know so many people, but I think they know we're out here,” he said. “I think the one thing that's very similar for us is the passion and the fanfare that goes along with Indiana basketball and also high school basketball and college basketball here is very similar, the passion for it.”

J.R. Oppenheim is the managing editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at or on Twitter @JROppenheim.

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