Lobos put on show for fans in exhibition win over Highlands - Albuquerque Journal

Lobos put on show for fans in exhibition win over Highlands

Lobo Javonte Johnson, center, goes up for a shot as he is held by New Mexico Highlands Ja’Vary Christmas( (11) during Friday night’s exhibition game at the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Maybe it was 615 days of pent up frustration between Lobo men’s basketball games being played in the Pit that was oozing out of the hardwood on Bob King Court.

Maybe Jamal Mashburn Jr., the sophomore transfer from Minnesota who followed his coach out west this past offseason to start a new chapter of his basketball journey, is just that good.

Whatever it was, when the 6-foot-2 guard collected a loose ball with 7 minutes, 38 seconds left on the clock, weaved his way around New Mexico Highlands University defenders, raced the length of the floor and rose up for a head-above-the-rim dunk in traffic, Mashburn left the Pit crowd, and his teammates, in shock.

While the faces of the announced exhibition crowd of 7,182 were covered with masks in easily the largest indoor event allowed in New Mexico in 19 months, you could still heard an audible gasp when it happened.

“The dunk was unbelievable. I’ve never seen him dunk,” new Lobos coach Richard Pitino said after his team’s high-energy 101-72 exhibition win over Division II New Mexico Highlands.

“We’ve got to do our best to make sure that’s a SportsCenter top 10, because that was that was shockingly impressive.”

It was one of many highlight-reel plays that have been missing from the half-century old building for far too long to suit some Lobo fans, who had to do without seeing their beloved team play in the state of New Mexico last season due to state health restrictions.

And, albeit against an out-manned Division II NMHU squad that didn’t play at all in the 2020-21 season, Friday seemed to be what the new-look UNM squad needed in its final tuneup before next week’s regular-season opener. It satisfied both in terms of the result, effort and style points that are, unapologetically, a point of emphasis for a program desperate to get fans back in the building once known as one of the best home-court advantages in the country.

“To get fans back in this building again, to get some energy, to get some enthusiasm was awesome to see,” Pitino said. “You can tell that this community is starving for college basketball, and they love it. … We’ve talked a lot about, yes, we want to win. But we need to win in a way that we can get our fans back engaged and get this place (to be) one of the toughest places to play in the country. I think fans saw tonight that these guys are going to play hard.”

Five Lobos scored in double figures, led by 18 points apiece from junior college transfer guard K.J. Jenkins and returning wing Javonte Johnson, who also chipped in 11 rebounds. Forward Jay Allen-Tovar had 17 points and several lob dunks and point guard Jaelen House had 12 points and eight assists in just 16 minutes.

The Lobos never trailed, led by as many as 36 and scored 40 fast break points. Defensively, in an 82-possession game, they held the Cowboys to just .889 points per possession and 38.4% shooting.

“It felt good,” Allen-Tovar said. “Coming from Juco, you don’t really get that. … It was fun.”

SITTING OUT: Sitting on the Lobos bench in warmups Friday night were returning players Saquan Singleton, a senior guard out indefinitely with a heart condition; and Valdir Manuel, a senior forward out indefinitely while an undisclosed disciplinary matter is being handled by main campus administrators; as well as newcomers Gethro Muscadin, a sophomore forward transfer from Kansas who was held out of last week’s intrasquad scrimmage for an undisclosed disciplinary matter that Pitino has said he doesn’t expect to last into next week’s season opener; and Safi Fino-A-Laself, a junior walk-on guard who was held out as a coach’s decision.

BOX SCORE:University of New Mexico 101, New Mexico Highlands 72

WEDNESDAY: Florida Atlantic at UNM, 7 p.m ., 770 AM/96.3 FM

VIDEO: Postgame video of Richard Pitino’s remarks to media:


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