After three years of growing out the hair atop his head, University of New Mexico shooting guard Anthony Mathis felt it was a good time for a cut.
“A fresh start,” he said with a smile prior to Saturday night’s season opener in the Pit.
Saturday night was definitely a fresh start, and a new look for the Lobos.
While it was against a vastly overmatched NAIA opponent in the Northern New Mexico Eagles, the Lobos opened the Paul Weir era, and the 2017-18 season, by setting a program record for points scored in a 147-76 blowout win in front of an announced crowd of 10,695.
The few thousand who remained when the final buzzer mercifully sounded stood and applauded as the Lobos (1-0) walked off the court.
“That’s the kind of offensive game we’ve been looking for,” Weir said. “Our last scrimmage was kind of a very similar outcome. We’re thankful we’re shooting the ball the way we are.”
The Lobos hit 18 3-pointers, shot a blistering 64.7 percent from the field, forced 33 turnovers, and they tied the program record for assists (40) and margin of victory (71).
And in the 101-possession game (the top teams in Division I usually average in the 80s), the Lobos hardly seemed to break a sweat as eight of them scored in double figures.
“No,” said junior Chris McNeal, the transfer guard whose Lobo debut included a game-high 24 points and 10 assists, the program’s first double-double with assists since 2014. “I can go again.”
Thanks to a 17-0 run, the Lobos were up 19-7 by the time the first media timeout of the game was called, a welcome break in the action for the visiting Eagles who had already committed six turnovers in the opening four minutes.
The press remained until under 9 minutes were left in the game — not as a sign of disrespect, Weir emphasized, but a decision that he didn’t want his team to get out of practicing how they will play the entire season.
“This is the style of play,” Weir said. “It’s a little ugly at times. I thought we had some phases of the game where we didn’t play as hard as we should. We kind of let our foot off the gas, and not in a demonstrative way, but just in an execution way. We have to make sure we put together a full 40-minute game.”
Northern (2-8) shot 37.1 percent in the game and was led by 20 points by Bryce Simmons.
After McNeal’s 24/10 night, Troy Simons scored 19 and had a game-high five steals. UNM’s two freshmen — Makuach Maluach (7-of-7 and 18 points) and Vladimire Pinchuk (6-for-6, 12 points) — combined for a perfect shooting night and were a bright spot for a bench Weir says he hopes to use to increase leads, not just maintain them.
Maluach chased down a Simmons fast-break layup and blocked it off the backboard with 6:25 left in the game. The ensuing rebound went to Lobo junior Dane Kuiper, who led the UNM fast break and lofted a perfectly placed alley-oop to junior Jachai Simmons for an emphatic dunk, and a 127-62 lead, with 6:20 left in the game.
It was a show Weir knows may not be repeated, statistically speaking, again this season. But he said it was a glimpse at what he wants fans to expect in terms of effort.
“I’m extremely thankful to every single fan that came through the door tonight,” Weir said. “Hopefully they’ll continue to come out and support us as we try to earn their trust and their respect as a basketball program. That’s really never going to stop.”
A GOOD SIGN: Drue Drinnon, a 6-foot point guard from Georgia who is playing his senior season in Florida, signed his National Letter of Intent on Saturday afternoon to play for the Lobos next season.
Drinnon is the first recruit for UNM in the 2018 recruiting class. Rated as a four-star, top-100 national recruit by ESPN.com, Drinnon had given his commitment to play for UNM on Oct. 29 when he was in Albuquerque on an official recruiting visit with his parents.
INJURIES: Senior forward Connor MacDougall was on the Lobos’ bench with a walking boot on his injured right foot (sprained ankle and bone bruise). He is hopeful to return to full action by the end of next week.