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Men's basketball: Team sweeps at Lobo Classic

The University of New Mexico men's basketball team hosted the Lobo Classic over the weekend where they played Jacksonville State University, North Dakota State University and Northern Colorado University over three consecutive days from Nov. 25-27. Each team faced each other once in a round-robin tournament. It was the first time The Pit hosted a midseason tournament since the 2007-08 season.

The Lobos finished first in the tournament with 3 wins and 0 losses. They advanced to an overall record of 6-0. The last time the Lobos started out 6-0 was the 2012-13 season.

Morris Udeze had a great tournament and was named the Lobo Classic MVP. He also made the NCAA all-tournament team. 

The Lobos first played the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on Friday, Nov. 25 in a 79-61 win where both the offense and defense had a strong showing. UNM started out fast and were well-rested, having 10 days off due to the cancellation of their game against New Mexico State University.

Udeze dominated in the paint and ended with 22 points, making 9 of his 11 shots. Donovan Dent also had a great game scoring 9 points and leading the team in assists with seven and only one turnover.

The Lobos started the game with a 14-0 run and didn't allow Jacksonville to score until there was 13:34 left in the half with Maros Zeliznak scoring off of a jump shot. UNM did not slow down and was up 42-21 at the end of the first half.

Thanks to the lead the team built in the first half, the starters were able to get some rest and get ready for the next two games — the Lobos still played hard. In the second half, Dent was given the role of primary ball handler and finished the game with 24 minutes, the most out of any bench player. UNM won 79-61 leading the entire game.

The Lobos then defeated the North Dakota State University Bison 77-55 on Saturday, Nov. 26. The Lobo defense shined, forcing 13 turnovers. They held NDSU to 18 of their 59 shots and allowed only 30.5% to go in.

On offense, four-fifths of the Lobo starters had double digit scoring. Jamal Mashburn Jr. led the team in scoring with 19 points. Jaelen House had 14 points with inefficient shooting, but he found other ways to be effective, earning five rebounds, six assists, two steals and three blocks.

The Lobos had an uncharacteristically slow start on offense against NDSU due to turnovers, but Udeze gave UNM the lead off a dunk up 6-4 with 16:25 left in the first half.

The offense became stagnant with turnovers and missed shots going on a 3-minute scoring drought that ended with a Mashburn jumpshot. Udeze continued with timely scoring with the game tied 22-22 he scored on a layup to give the Lobos the lead again.

The first half ended with the Lobos up 32-25. UNM's defense was able to control NDSU with just three Bison scoring in the first half and forcing NDSU to make 8 of their 37 shots. 

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In the second half, Bison Tajavis Miller and Boden Skunberg both hit 3-pointers to cut into UNM's lead. The Lobos responded by going on a 9-0 run that ended with Bison Grant Nelson making just 1 free throw. The Lobos closed the game out 77-55, scoring consistently and forcing many bad shots from North Dakota.

Their final game of the tournament was against the University of Northern Colorado Bears on Sunday, Nov. 27. Udeze had another monster game, scoring a career high 33 points and shooting a perfect 13-for-13 from the free-throw line; he also grabbed 14 rebounds. House had his best offensive game of the tournament, scoring 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting.

The Lobo offense did not miss a beat at the start of the game, scoring off an Udeze layup. Josiah Allick and Javonté Johnson had back-to-back 3-pointers which contributed to a 12-0 run that put the Lobos up 18-7 with 14:34 left in the half.

The Bears responded with a 7-0 run of their own to cut into the lead, but Udeze dunked over two defenders to reinvigorate the offense; it led to House stealing the ball and passing to Mashburn on a fastbreak for a layup. House followed it up with another steal and was fouled in transition, making both free throws.

UNM ended the half up 50-42. The Bears were able to stay in the game due to their 3-point shooting, making 7 of their 13 attempts.

Northern Colorado scored on back-to-back possessions to cut the lead to just 4 points, but House gave the team some momentum by scoring 8 points straight for the Lobos with two 3-pointers and a steal which led to a layup. Mashburn made a tough layup, sprinting past his defender to put the Lobos up 62-56 with 14:15 left in the game.

The Lobos went on an incredible run scoring 16 unanswered points and letting their defense turn into offense, forcing 4 turnovers during that stretch. All of the starters were taken out of the game with 1:49 left, and the Lobos won 98-74.

After the game against Northern Colorado, head coach Richard Pitino talked about the defensive adjustment that allowed the team to start dominating the second half and gave credit to Udeze's performance.

"I thought our defense got better obviously in the second half; we made some adjustments. I think what worked for us versus SMU and North Dakota State wasn't going to work versus a team like Northern Colorado who could really shoot the ball … We ended up just switching all ball screens and (tried) to play one-on-one, and I thought it helped us pull away. Morris Udeze was phenomenal. Our guys did a great job of finding him. He did an unbelievable job making free throws," Pitino said.

After being named tournament MVP, Udeze was happy with his performance and commented on his improvement from the free-throw line.

"It felt great: I got a good night's sleep, woke up and God blessed me … I've been working on free throws every time, every day trying to go at least (shoot) 46-for-50, just trying to keep on shooting," Udeze said.

The men's basketball team next plays against St. Mary's College of California in Moraga, California on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at sports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @thomasbulger10

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