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Lyle, Lobos outrun feisty Phoenix to improve to 3-0

UNM’s JaQuan Lyle (5) drives the ball into the paint against Green Bay’s Kameron Hankerson in their game against Wednesday evening in the Pit. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

JaQuan Lyle couldn’t help himself from talking.

And the Green Bay defense couldn’t stop him from scoring.

After 32 months between actual basketball games — a season off due to NCAA transfer rules and another due to a torn Achilles — the UNM senior guard continued his emotional early season coming out party, scoring a career-high 31 points to lead the Lobos to a 93-78 win over the visiting Phoenix in Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit.

“He made some tough shots,” Green Bay coach Linc Darner said. “I don’t think we guarded him terrible. Everybody will look at the stat sheet and say, well he scored 31, you guys didn’t guard him at all. I thought we did a decent job guarding him.”

The Lobos improved to 3-0 on the young season and host McNeese State on Saturday. Green Bay falls to 1-2.

Lyle’s game ran the gamut of emotions, and filled the stat sheet across the board. His 31 points came on 9-of-16 shooting (5-of-9 from 3-point range), a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line, five rebounds, five assists, five fouls drawn and a steal.

But there were also seven first-half turnovers (he had none in the second half) that clearly bothered him, leading to an open dialogue with the referees — a conversation they felt needed to be much more one-sided than did Lyle. At one point in the first half, after Lyle complained about a travel call but then finally turned his back to referee Gerry Pollard on the south end of Bob King Court, Pollard walked 10-15 feet out of his way to get in front of a then-quiet Lyle to continue barking at the Lobo guard.

When Lyle’s fifth 3-pointer of the night gave him his career high (he had 29 points for the Buckeyes as a freshman in a loss to Indiana on Jan. 10, 2016) with 3:06 remaining in the game and the Lobos leading 89-71, he was again talking. Pollard decided to give Lyle a technical for it.

“As you can see he’s an emotional kid,” UNM coach Paul Weir said. “When he’s on, he’s on. And when he’s off, we’ve got to kind of get him back around as quickly as we can. Turnovers in the first half I thought really kind of snake bit him, and us, too, a little bit. But as the game wore on, he settled in.”

The Lobos had 13 first-half turnovers that turned into 17 points for Green Bay, which added 10 second chance points off its five offensive boards in the opening 20 minutes.

But the Lobos size, and stamina, was enough down the stretch against a team that ranked in the top 10 in the country in tempo last season and tried to out-run the Lobos in front of an announced Pit crowd of 10,137.

Makuach Maluach had 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting for UNM and Carlton Bragg added 11 points and 16 rebounds as the Lobos out-rebounded Green Bay 47-38 and scored 40 points in the paint.

The thought in the Lobo camp afterward, however, wasn’t about the good stats as much as it was about the things still left to improve, including the balance of letting passion ride its course and not letting it hurt the team.

“I’m trying to give this team room to grow and kind of find themselves,” Weir said. “I think we see it internally, the ceiling that this team has, the talent that it has and we’re trying to still kind of find our way a little bit.”

NOTES: Former UNM coach Gary Colson was honored as a “Legend of the Game,” and received a loud ovation when introduced and brought out on the court during a first half media timeout. …

Wednesday’s game was the first of two “regional site” games as part of the Legends Classic event, which culminates Nov. 25 and 26 in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the Barclays Center. UNM plays Auburn on Nov. 25 and either Wisconsin or Richmond on the 26th. …

The Lobos had 13 first half turnovers and just five in the second half. In Saturday’s win over CSU-Northridge, it was 10 first half turnovers and just two in the second half.

Box score: UNM 93, Green_Bay 78

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