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Redshirt sophomore guard Elijah Brown drives to the net against a University of Nevada player at WisePies Arena Dec. 30. The Lobos take on Utah State this Saturday at 4 p.m..
Redshirt sophomore guard Elijah Brown drives to the net against a University of Nevada player at WisePies Arena Dec. 30. The Lobos take on Utah State this Saturday at 4 p.m..

Men's basketball: Lobos playing at increased tempo

For the last three years New Mexico’s coaching staff wanted to push the tempo on the hardwood.

Two years ago it wasn’t an effective strategy with the team’s potency in the low post. Last season the Lobos didn’t have the roster to play fast.

Now, in Craig Neal’s third season as head coach, UNM is running at the quick pace. The Lobos lead the Mountain West in adjusted tempo, according to the statistical website, with 73.7 possessions per game. That average also ranks 30th best on’s list nationally.

As a conference, the Mountain West averages 71.3 possessions per game with the national average at 69.8.

“I think it's fun to play that way,” Neal said two days before his team host Utah State on Saturday. “I just think it's fun basketball.”

Not only has UNM run faster than any other conference opponent so far this season, they’re taking 10 possessions more per game than they did last year, where the Lobos had 62.5 possessions per game.

One component to the new pace stems from the updated shot clock. Removing five seconds from the shot clock in a 40-minute contest will do that. But it’s also the style Neal said he’s wanted to implement since he took over the program.

With its tempo, UNM (9-6, 2-0 MW) scores the fourth most points in the Mountain West 77.5 points per game. In its first two conference games the Lobos scored a league-high 82.5 points, outscoring Nevada and Fresno State by 13.5 points.

The Lobos also have the second and fifth best Mountain West scorers in guard Elijah Brown at 19.4 points per game and forward Tim Williams at 16.2.

A trade-off to the tempo, however, has come in turnovers. The Lobos gave up the ball 20 times in the last two games, and sit last in turnover average (15.9) and turnover margin (-1.93).

Turning the ball over 20 times a game is not an acceptable number, Neal said, but he compared the tempo to what Chip Kelly did when he coached the Oregon football team. There, Neal said, the Ducks ran so many possessions that it helped overcome the mistakes.

The Lobos won’t change its tempo depending on the matchup, Neal said, but rather he wants to force opponent to adjust to his. He also won’t take a player out of a game because they turn the ball over or miss a shot. Playing time, he said, is dependent on whether a player performs the way the Lobos need.

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“I've come a lot way with this because I didn't believe it when I first got into coaching,” Neal said. “I don't think you can take a guy out for turnovers because then I think you take away their creativity. I think you take who they are.”

Utah State on Saturday

The Aggies (9-5, 1-2 MW) travels to Albuquerque after two straight conference losses to San Diego State and Boise State, the other two unbeaten teams since MW play began. They beat San Jose State in their other conference game this year.

Tim Duryea is in his first year as Utah State head coach. He was an assistant under Stew Morrill before taking over the program, much like Neal did at UNM.

They entered the season losing David Collette, who Neal said could have been one of the best big men in the Mountain West. Media reports stated Collette opted to quit the team two days before the season opened, and Utah State did not grant him a release from his scholarship.

The Aggies rank fourth in the conference in scoring defense with 68.1 points per game. Jalen Moore is eighth in scoring at 14.9 per game for a team that averages 73.1 points offensively.

Utah State does lack a shot blocker and lacks size, Neal said, so the Lobos will need to attack the rim inside with Williams and center Obij Aget.

“If I can get 16 and 10, or 16 and 11 out of those two guys, that's pretty good,” Neal said.

Security for the game

The UNM athletic department sent a reminder Thursday afternoon that fans will be subject to search entering WisePies Arena via metal detectors. Doors will be open sooner than normal in addition to an extra entrance on the east side of the venue to make up for the added security. Officials ask entrants to allow for extra time to enter the arena.

Fans are also asked to leave bags inside their vehicles. Items banned from the arena include:

  • alcoholic beverages
  • weapons
  • baby seats and strollers
  • bicycles and skateboards
  • camera bags or lenses more than 6 inches
  • coolers or containers
  • folding chairs or strollers
  • food or beverages (one unopened bottle of water is allowed)
  • laser pointers
  • noisemakers
  • pets (except for service animals)
  • oversize umbrellas

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

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