The Lobos were supposed to win Wednesday night.
And they were supposed to do so convincingly.
But even against an outmanned, undersized (at least relative to the Lobos) NAIA team like the University of Jamestown, No. 23 New Mexico was able to send a bit of a message to those who think defense will take a step back as the pace of the offense is amped up this season.
UNM beat Jamestown 94-51, closing the game out on a 21-0 scoring run and holding the Jimmies without a point over the final 9 minutes, 7 seconds of the game. The kids from North Dakota missed their final 14 shots and didn’t attempt a free throw in the game.
“We got a little bit better defensively in the second half, held them to 20 points,” UNM coach Craig Neal said “It was a good test for us.”
The test was less about the outcome of the game and more about the Lobos not playing down to their competition in their final exhibition game before Saturday’s regular-season opener.
In the first half, Jamestown hit seven 3-pointers, allowing them to stay within striking distance. UNM led 43-31 at halftime when Neal issued a bit of a challenge to his team.
“What’s hard is you’ve got a group of veteran guys who have played at a high level. And they’ve won at a high level,” Neal said, referring to his four returning starters Kendall Williams, Hugh Greenwood, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. “When they come down for an exhibition game, I tried to tell them don’t look at the other end (at the opponent). You’ve got to take care of your own business and be ready to play. I think in the second half I challenged them. Let’s play with some toughness. Let’s finish it out. Let’s keep it under 60.”
They did with room to spare, holding the Jimmies to just 20 second half points and 23.5 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes (Jamestown shot 20-of-69 in the game for 29.0 percent).
Jamestown, which is coached by Justin Wieck who played for Neal and Steve Alford at Iowa, hit 11 3-pointers in the first 29 minutes of the game and attempted 40.
On the other end, UNM got double figure scoring from all five starters, who included Eldorado graduate and coach Neal’s son Cullen Neal, who scored 14 points, hit three 3-pointers, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists in 27 minutes.
Just two weeks ago, Craig Neal said he didn’t expect to start his son at all this season, instead using him as the No. 1 guard off the bench. And after 11 days in a hospital in Australia after a ruptured appendix and then coming down with mononucleosis, the freshman’s stamina and health took a big shot recently.
“To be honest with you, I met with my staff and he’s earned it,” Craig Neal said about giving Cullen the start. “He’s been through a lot. The kid’s been through a lot. He lost 22 pounds. He’s fought back, and he’s played at a high level, and he deserved it.”
Craig Neal said he’s comfortable starting Cullen Neal, sophomores Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas or Arthur Edwards or junior Deshawn Delaney at that fifth starter position.
Kirk had his second exhibition double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Bairstow led all scorers with 16 points, including 8-of-10 free throws and nine rebounds.
Jamestown was led by 11 points from Taylor Newton off the bench and 10 more from starting guard Mark Hoge.
UNM out-rebounded Jamestown 56-26 and outscored them in the paint 46-16.