ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Yes, it was San Jose State.
But Saturday night’s 72-47 blowout victory over San Jose State in the sold-out Pit was also a little bit of everything the New Mexico Lobos needed heading into the second half of Mountain West play.
“We’re getting really good play from a lot of guys,” Lobos coach Craig Neal said. “… Just a really good team effort. Anytime you can hold a team to 47 and only two offensive rebounds is a credit to my guys. We’re getting better. We have a long way to go.”
For this night, though, everything seemed to be clicking.
The Lobos (17-4, 8-1 Mountain West) held the Spartans to 47 points, a season low for a UNM opponent. They dished out 20 assists while committing a season-low three turnovers. They went 12 players deep and got plenty of production from everyone who played, including a very promising return from injury from 7-foot center Alex Kirk.
UNM also kept within a half game in the standings of league-leading No. 5 San Diego State.
The Lobos jumped to a 17-3 lead in the first seven minutes of Saturday’s game against the overmatched Spartans (6-16, 0-10). San Jose State’s only basket came on a fadeaway, turnaround 3-pointer that banked in off the glass by Isaac Thornton as the shot-clock buzzer sounded.
The Lobo defense held SJSU to 34.1 percent shooting in the game. While the Spartans did hit 10 3-pointers, they came via 28 attempts and were never a threat to change the outcome.
Included in the early-game flurry for the Lobos were seven points from Kirk in the first five minutes.
“If you can hit them first, that’s important,” said Kirk, who missed the past two games with a left shin injury.
A game plan of getting Kirk involved early was as obvious as was the adrenaline running through junior center’s veins. He smacked the opening tip out of bounds along the baseline.
The Lobos lead extended to as many as 15 points in the opening half when Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas drained a 3-pointer with 6:14 remaining for a 33-18 margin. UNM led 37-25 at the break.
In the second half it got even more lopsided.
“I really challenged them at halftime to hold them under 50 and they did that,” Neal said. “That’s a credit to them.”
The Spartans hit only one field goal in the first 11 and a half minutes of the second half and UNM led by as many as 29 points.
The blowout wasn’t just about starters piling on stats, but role players gaining experience down the stretch.
Cameron Bairstow led the Lobos in scoring as he has often this season, but with just 14 points in 32 minutes of playing time. Kendall Williams had 11 points, five assists and three steals in 29 minutes, and Kirk chipped in 13 points in just 19 minutes.
The UNM bench, which had averaged 8.0 points per Mountain West game in the Pit this season, pitched in 25 led by eight apiece from Thomas and freshman Cullen Neal.
“It’s always good to be home, playing in front of the Pit crowd,” Cullen Neal said. “… We just tried to make sure we came out with energy. If you come out with energy, you do really good things.”
San Jose State was led by 15 points off the bench from Rashad Muhammad and 11 from starting point guard Jalen James, both freshmen.
The Lobos outrebounded SJSU 40-26, including having 11 offensive rebounds to just two for the Spartans.
GREENWOOD HURT: UNM junior Hugh Greenwood was injured late in the second half, taking a forearm to the right eye leading to his leaving the game after a very Greenwood-like stat line of two points, seven rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers. “Yeah, it’s not good,” head coach Craig Neal said. “It’s not good. I just hope it doesn’t swell shut.”
Said freshman Cullen Neal, “It’s crazy. We call him Thor. We told him that’s not supposed to happen to Thor.”
Craig Neal postgame press conference video
Cullen Neal and Alex Kirk postgame press conference video