The University of New Mexico men's basketball team defeated the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds for their season opener on Monday, Nov. 7.
The Thunderbirds play in the Western Athletic Conference; they finished the 2021-22 season with an overall record of 23-12. Tevian Jones led them in scoring with an impressive 28 points and timely scoring which kept them in the game.
The Lobo backcourt had an amazing scoring performance with Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelen House earning 24 and 23 points, respectively. House also had six steals and seven assists. Morris Udeze had 14 points, making 7 of his 11 shots.
Foul trouble was a major problem in the game with four of the five starters having three or more fouls. UNM will need to look to improve defending without fouling over the course of the season.
New Mexico won the tipoff and Udeze scored the first points of the night on a post up. Harrison Butler scored the first points for the Thunderbirds with a pair of free throws. UNM’s offense had a slow start with sloppy play, but made up for it on the defensive end by forcing bad shots and turnovers. UNM was up 6-2 at the first media timeout with 15:58 left in the half.
Udeze got into foul trouble early, resulting in Birima Seck coming into the game: he scored right away off a bounce pass by House. Seck was then called for two fouls, however, and Jay Allen-Tovar had to come in for him. The forwards got called for fouls frequently includingJosiah Allick getting called for back-to-back offensive fouls.
The offense started to build some momentum with Mashburn and the bench unit making plays. KJ Jenkins stole the ball and was fouled on a layup. Mashburn hit a mid range jump shot and Jenkins followed it with a 3-pointer.
Allen-Tovar was called for a technical foul and Thunderbird Cameron Healy connected on both free throws. The Lobos were still up 18-12 with under 10 minutes left in the first half.
House came into the game and had an incredible sequence hitting a 3-pointer; on the next play, he got his defender called for a charge. Back on defense, he went for a steal but left his man open for an easy layup. He made up for it by immediately making a tough layup.
UNM called a timeout after the Thunderbirds hit a 3-pointer. The Lobos were up 25-17 with 5:21 left in the half.
Foul trouble allowed Southern Utah to make it a close game, but the Lobos were still up 39-33 at the end of the half. New Mexico had 11 fouls in the half with eight coming from UNM's forwards. They also had six turnovers, but scored 8 points from fast breaks.
UNM did not stop fouling with Mashburn and House both getting fouls called early into the half. Mashburn then scored 5 straight points for the Lobos, but they started playing loose defense to prevent more fouls. Mashburn hit a 3-pointer with the game tied. The Lobos were up just 51-48 with 14:50 left in the game.
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The Lobos were on a 10-0 run that was highlighted by a Udeze dunk, followed by a House 3-pointer; he then got his defender called for a charge and dove on the ground for a jump ball.
The Thunderbirds came back into the game after UNM allowed some easy points around the basketball. New Mexico called a timeout up 63-59 with 8:59 left in the game.
Out of the timeout, Allick had a block and secured the ball which led to the offense finding some rhythm. Udeze scored over his defender to put the Lobos up by 7. On defense, he helped get a steal to House who was fouled on a fast break but only made one of his free throws.
Back on offense, Udeze was called for his fourth foul. House then answered a Thunderbird 3-pointer with one of his own to put the Lobos up 76-69 with just over 4 minutes to go.
Udeze dunked with 40 seconds left and then got a steal, but Thunderbird Jones hit a 3-pointer to cut the Lobos lead to just 3 points with 24 seconds left in the game. Down the stretch, the Lobos were able to inbound the ball and they made their free throws to win the game 89-81.
After the game, Mashburn talked about the team's chemistry and his excitement for the season.
"It felt amazing. It was good to just get back and get running with these guys. And CSU Pueblo was just exhibition play. It felt good to get a real one under our belt. We got 30 more opportunities; we are just going to go back to the drawing board and get better and prepare for South Alabama," said Mashburn.
Head coach Richard Pitino in his press conference gave a lot of credit to Southern Utah and talked about how the team had to adjust their scheme during the game.
"Tough first opponent: we are going to have a lot of teams like that on the schedule that may not be the marquee names so to speak that our fans may know, but that's a program that won 23 games last year and 20 the year before … We did a really good job of adjusting. We didn't know what they would do defensively. We prepared for zone. It was a little bit different than what we were going over, and we adjusted well. We started throwing the ball inside, moving the ball side to side — a lot of good things," Pitino said.
The Lobos are now 1-0 to start out the season and next play against the University of South Alabama at The Pit on Friday, Nov. 11.
Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @thomasbulger10