The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team collected another win, thanks in part to some sharp-shooting from the 3-point line.
Senior guard Anthony Mathis poured in seven 3-pointers en route to scoring a game-high 23 points to lead his Lobos to an 85-75 victory over the Bradley Braves on Saturday evening.
New Mexico entered the game as the second-best 3-point shooting team in the nation, hitting at a 47.9 percent clip. That percentage took a hit, but UNM made good on 12 of its attempts from long range.
UNM (4-1) got off to yet another slow start and turned in a sub-par shooting performance in the first half, which created an early hole for the team to attempt to climb out of. The Lobos managed just three points in the first 10 minutes of its previous game against UTEP and trailed by 11 points as a result.
The Braves didn’t need nearly as much time to build such a lead. Bradley connected on its first four shots, including three straight 3-pointers to race out to an 11-0 lead about two and half minutes into the game.
Bradley’s Elijah Childs hit a jumper with 12:47 remaining in the half to give his team a 16-7 edge, but then the Braves went cold and got sloppy with the ball. Some rushed shots and three turnovers allowed New Mexico to string together a 12-3 run to pull within 19-18 after point guard Keith McGee made a jumper in the paint.
The Braves tried to create some separation again, but were plagued by 12 first-half turnovers which disrupted any chance at generating an offensive flow. After back-to-back 3-balls by Mathis, the Lobos enjoyed their first lead, 24-22, just inside the seven-minute mark.
Mathis continued to have a hot hand and capped the first half by hitting his sixth 3-pointer to give the Lobos a 41-32 advantage at the break.
The 18 points, all from beyond the arc, in the opening 20 minutes was twice as much as any other player. Darrell Brown led Bradley with nine first-half points, which also came exclusively from deep.
New Mexico shot much better in the second-half (50 percent) and also showed marked improvement in one important aspect of the game — free throws. UNM went 21-of-24 from the foul line, while Bradley struggled a bit, going just 18-of-29.
That recipe made it difficult for Bradley to make a sustained run. UNM freshman guard Tavian Percy hit an early 3-pointer to push the Lobo lead to 13. New Mexico continued to maintain a double-digit margin for much of the second half and seemed to have things well in control after Corey Manigault made a shot with 14:33 to play to make the score 52-38.
But the Braves were finally able to catch a break, cashing in on a couple of UNM turnovers and using a 14-3 scoring spurt to slice into the lead. Bradley was able to make it a one-possession game when Brown stole the ball and glided down the court for a layup to pull within 55-52 approaching the midway point of the second half.
New Mexico had an answer though and ratcheted up the defensive effort while utilizing its size to get inside and draw fouls. The margin swelled to double digits again when Manigault knocked down a pair of free throws, part of 14-consecutive makes as a team from the charity stripe, to make it 64-54 with about eight minutes remaining.
UNM head coach Paul Weir said Bradley played well in stretches — crediting the team for its effort in building an early lead and fighting back again after it relinquished it — but acknowledged his own team's stretch run as the possible difference in the game.
"You have to tip your cap to Bradley, I thought the first five or so minutes of the game was terrific and I thought the last 8-10 minutes was a very good basketball team working to get back," Weir said in a release. "Fortunately that 20-25 minutes or so in the middle, we were really able to establish our style of play and do it in such a way that it overcame that last 15 minutes that we still have to improve upon."
The Lobos led by as many as 15 after yet another Mathis long ball — his seventh of the game — found its way into the hoop to make the score 76-61.
UNM surrendered a few late baskets, but salted things away with good free throw shooting to walk away with the 85-75 road victory and improve its record to 4-1 on the season.
The lone blemish came at the hands of in-state rival New Mexico State, when the Aggies won 98-94 in a game that really wasn’t close until the very end. The Lobos will get a shot at payback when they travel to Las Cruces to face the Aggies again on Tuesday, Dec. 4 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.