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Defense fuels Lobos’ dominating win

New Mexico’s Carlton Bragg leaps to block the shot of Cal State Northridge’s Elijah Harkless during Saturday’s game at Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit. The Lobos won, 97-70.
JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL

There was no banked-in 3-pointer needed this time.

A year after a last-second shot was needed to beat Cal State University-Northridge in a season opener that was a sign of things to come, the UNM Lobos are hopeful Saturday night might also be reflective of what the season ahead might bring.

A refreshingly defense-dominated game from the offensively gifted Lobos led to a one-sided 97-70 win over CSUN in front of an announced crowd of 10,335 on Saturday night in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit.

“It was a step, for sure, defensively tonight,” head coach Paul Weir said. “Probably a bigger one than maybe I even anticipated because this is a good team.”

CSUN (0-2) was picked to finish third in the Big West Conference this season, but has played its first two games, including Saturday, without star forward Lamine Diane, who scored 31 against the Lobos last season but remains out so far this season due to academics with no timetable for his return, Matadors head coach Mark Gottfried said.

As for the Lobos (2-0), the offense was again dynamic and largely balanced with five players scoring in double figures, including three off the bench.

Gottfried said this is a much-improved team from the Lobos he coached against last November.

“He (Weir) has a nice team,” Gottfried said. “He added two or three good players that weren’t there last year that are new for them. And they’ve got some experience. They’re a lot older than us. I thought they played really well.”

Senior guard JaQuan Lyle led the Lobos with 18 points and five assists while the Lobos’ one-two punch in the frontcourt – Carlton Bragg and Corey Manigault – combined for 34 points with 17 apiece.

“Our coaches make it a point to get the ball in the paint,” said Manigault, the senior forward. “If they’re going to do that, I might as well take advantage of it.”

Sure, the offense was rolling on Saturday as UNM shot 60 percent from the field (36-of-60) and scored at an impressive 1.29 points per possession, but it was the defense that Lobo coaches, and fans, hope will be the more lasting takeaway from Saturday.

CSUN shot 44.4 percent in the game and star point guard Terrell Gomez, who like Diane is an all-Big West player from a season ago, was limited to 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. UNM out-rebounded the Matadors 36-30.

The Matadors hit five first-half 3-pointers, but Weir was quick to say his initial reaction was a good one to the types of shots CSUN was having to settle for due to the Lobos’ defense.

“I do think defensively these guys are hopefully buying into the idea that that’s what’s going to carry us,” Weir said. “We have very gifted offensive players. We know that. I think the other team knows that. I think our players know that. It’s going to be a question of how committed to defense can we get. When we can, I think we can be pretty good.”

NOTES: Lobos sophomore point guard Drue Drinnon returned to Albuquerque on Saturday and was on the team’s bench. Lobos coach Paul Weir did not address the issue after the game. Drinnon had left Albuquerque to be with family on Oct. 28, the day after a scrimmage against No. 15 Oregon. Weir had told the media in the past two weeks he wasn’t sure if Drinnon would return to the team. …

Menaul School graduate Michael Ou, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward for CSUN, fouled out in 7 minutes played with one rebound. …

The latest batch of UNM Letterman’s Association Hall of Famers were honored on Bob King Court at halftime: Clem Charlton, Jim Ottmann, Amy Beggin, Simon Arkell, Ryley Hendry and Brandon Moss. Joe Powdrell, also a recent inductee, was not present Saturday.

BOX SCORE: New Mexico 97, CSU-Northridge 70

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