The college basketball season is underway and the New Mexico Lobos started it at the Pit tonight with a dominant performance against an over-matched Texas Southern team. Though the game started out close, with the Tigers connecting on three quick three-pointers, the Lobos pulled away before the midway point of the first half (21-13) and never looked back.
New Mexico started Cullen Neal and Elijah Brown in the back court with Sam Logwood, Tim Williams and big man Obij Aget in the front court. For those of you keeping score at home, that is a starting lineup with two new transfers and no true point guard (though Neal was extremely effective), You would have never guessed that based on how well the team played together.
The two transfers made quick contributions with eight of the Lobos first 16 points. Brown would go on to finish the game with 16 points and six assists.Fellow transfer Tim Williams was an absolute force down low, giving New Mexico their first true inside presence since Cameron Bairstow graduated two years ago. The power forward chipped in 17 points of his own while animating the crowd with a few power dunks. He also showed a knack to knock down the fifteen foot jumper that will undoubtedly come in handy as the season progresses. Not a bad output from two new players.
The real star here was Neal who led the team with 22 points and four assists. He made sharp passes, including a beautiful no look shovel to Joe Furstinger for an early first-half slam. Neal also showed an array of scoring maneuvers, including a couple of post ups, a floater in the paint, an aggressive drive that resulted in a reverse layup, and his usual ability to come off the screen and knock down a three-pointer on a catch-and-shoot. He will have some growing pains playing the point as he had a few passes that just didn't work out (three turnovers), but having him out there with Brown's smooth shooting ultimately gives the Lobos the best chance to win games.
The Lobos shot a blistering 72 percent from the first in the first half to Texas Southern's 35 percent, had 14 assists to the Tigers five, and thirty-two points in the paint to the Tigers' ten. Moreover, New Mexico turned Texas Southern over regularly which led to easy points in transition where they had a 13-2 advantage, although it is worth noting that unlike in years past, their half-court offense looked well-structured. At halftime the score was 54-27 in New Mexico's favor.
UNM posted 54 points in the first half and came back down to earth in the second, only adding 32 more. Rather than talk about the garbage time that was the second half, I'd like to make a few observations while bearing in mind that it is only the first game of the season.
The Lobos are very active on defense - New Mexico used a mixture of man-to-man, 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone, and a 1-2-2 press that left the Tigers perplexed. Their active hands forced 19 turnovers that led to a 17-7 scoring edge on points off turnovers. They were also monsters on the glass and out-rebounded TSU 35-24. In the past the Lobos have been known for their smothering defense and it seems to be their calling card this season.
UNM is playing with more pace - Last year I remember Greenwood slowly walking the ball up the court and using just about all of the shot clock before taking a bad shot. Tonight New Mexico got up and down the court in an exciting brand of basketball. They took advantage of a defense that had not yet set up and were able to get some good looks through Brown and Neal's constant driving and dissecting of the defense.
UNM has better shooters than years past - Part of the reason that their offense looks better is because they have guys that can knock down outside shots. With Neal back from injury and the addition of Brown (as well as Anthony Mathis who Coach Neal is high on), opposing defenses will have to respect New Mexico's outside shooting. This will open things up on the inside for Williams, who will be a crucial part to the team's success.
Not much more to say about this one.Texas Southern will surprise some teams this season and are favored to win the SWAC, but tonight they were not prepared for a Lobos team that played thirteen. With the win, the cherry and silver have now won thirteen straight season openers. They will take on New Mexico State this Sunday in Las Cruces.