Kendall Williams and the Lobos took care of business to take the first game of the Rio Grande Rivalry, defeating the New Mexico State Aggies 79-70.
Williams paced the Lobos with 24 points (12 of which came from free throws) and four assists. Cameron Bairstow added 20 points, eight boards and two blocks. Alex Kirk failed to reach a double-double for the first time this season, mostly due to foul trouble. Kirk only played six minutes the first half. The 7-footer still chipped in nine points and five rebounds.
Obij Aget filled in for Kirk. Aget didn't score but he did a great job defending 7-5 Aggie, Sim Bhullar. Aget did get three rebounds. Nick Banyard, Arthur Edwards and Deshawn Delaney all added two points off the bench.
The Aggies only had two players in double digit scoring: Daniel Mullings (16 points and six rebounds) and Renaldo Dixon (15 points and six rebounds). Bhullar was held to five points, but he pulled down 10 boards and blocked three shots.
The Aggies played a tough game but couldn't seem to find their stride. The Aggies shot 38.7 percent to the Lobos 43.1 percent. For context, the Aggies shot 51.7 percent against Colorado State. Nonetheless, the Aggies didn't lie down. The Lobos were up 10 points at the half, but the Aggie scratched back to within four points with 13:00 left to play.
The Lobos did a good job holding the Aggies off in a hostile environment (apparently one fan threw trash on the court, earning his team a technical). "That's our veteran guys making plays," said Lobo head coach Craig Neal of his players' poise and control.
NMSU coach Marvin Menzies admitted his team "was not playing their best basketball" and that the Aggies played with less passion than expected, especially for a rivalry game.
All and all, this was a solid road win for the Lobos. It was refreshing and reassuring to see other Lobos besides Williams, Bairstow and Kirk contribute. Fellow starters Cleveland Thomas had five points and two steals. Greenwood scored six points off of two three-pointers, one of them a big shot in the final minutes when the Aggies were within four. Cullen Neal withstood chants of "Daddy's Boy" from the Aggie fans to go for six points, but his ball security woes continued as he turned the ball over twice and made some risky passes.
"Really proud of our bench," said Neal. "I thought they would be a little anxious because it was a great crowd. I was a little concerned about our (young) guys coming in here. It's not an easy place to play. I was glad to see our young guys come in here and play with some composure."
With this win the Lobos are on a three-game win streak. More important than the streak is the momentum and confidence the run represents. After losing to UMass in the Charleston Classic the Lobos were unceremoniously booted from the top-25. The Lobos host undefeated Cincinnati Saturday afternoon. If New Mexico wins that game, it might just be enough to merit top-25 consideration again, which would make the following game against #6 Kansas (in Kansas City) much more interesting (not to mention less daunting). Let's see if the Lobos can build on their streak going forward.