New Mexico big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk delivered as the Lobos earned their second win of the season by defeating Charleston Southern 109-93 on Sunday. Kirk dominated with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks. Bairstow had another efficient night scoring 29 points, going 9-13 from the floor and 11-16 from the charity stripe. Kendall Williams had a nice double-double with 20 points and 10 assists.
"I thought their size was a significant difference in the game," Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "I thought they executed extremely well. They're a very good team. They're a legitimate top-20, top-15 team." The Associated Press agreed as the Lobos were ranked 19th Monday morning.
Coach Craig Neal wasn't as impressed. "I'm not real happy," he said. "As a matter of fact, I'm a little bit embarrassed with the way we guarded in the second half.... In the first half, I thought we did a really, really good job of playing the way we wanted to play. We did a nice job of holding them to 36 points. We did what we wanted to do."
The first 20 minutes were more to Neal's liking. The Bucs had the Lobos on the ropes early in the first half with a 21-19 lead. The Lobos responded well using a well balanced attack and playing stingy defense to take a 52-36 halftime lead (holding the Bucs to 26.7 percent shooting from long range).
Charleston came out of halftime slinging fire from beyond the arc, however, hitting five three pointers at the 15:57 mark. The Buccaneers shot 57.1 percent in the second half. The Bucs went 15-of-34 from 3-point range-shooting more treys than field goals. The Buccaneers were 28-of-59 from the field. Lobos Cleveland Thomas and Hugh Greenwood responded with a pair of treys allowing UNM to keep the lead. They never let the lead dip below double figures the rest of the game.
When UNM went up 77-51, Charleston called timeout with 13:17 to play. UNM came out of that huddle and got a Cullen Neal trey and a Greenwood layup to go up 82-51. Neal decided to tinker with the rotation a bit, substituting all of the starters besides Greenwood. The Bucs cut the lead to inside 20 points and Neal put his starters back on the floor. At the 3:49 stop, UNM was up 101-82 with Kirk providing the 100th point on a layup.
The Lobos finished with five players scoring double-digit points (11 from Cullen Neal and 10 from Thomas). Cullen Neal continues to be a valuable spark on offense, but once again struggled to take care of the ball, committing six turnovers (he had four against Alabama A&M).
The Bucs were led by Saah Nimley's 24 points and 12 assists. Four other Bucs scored in double-digits. "I like the way they play," Neal said about the Buccaneers. "They've got really good guards and the little guy [Nimley] can play and he's got a big heart."
The Lobos travel to Charleston on Thursday to take part in ESPN's Charleston Classic tournament. The Lobos will face off against the undefeated University of Alabama at Birmingham in the first round. As the only nationally ranked team in the tournament field, the Lobos will have a target on their back. Coach Neal probably would like to see a 40-minute defensive effort from the Lobos. In any event, one of the teams will head back to the locker room with their first loss.
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