It was ugly.
Then it wasn’t.
The visiting Grambling State Tigers kept the Pit calm for the first 20 minutes on Monday night – holding the host Lobos under 40% shooting and out-rebounding them by 10 to keep things close at halftime.
Then Jaelen House seemed to have seen enough.
The 6-foot Lobo spark plug fired up the Lobos’ engine at the beginning of a dominant second half to pull away for an 86-61 win in front of an announced Pit crowd of 8,010.
In an eight-possession stretch to start the second half after UNM held a sloppy 37-33 lead at the break, House had three steals, two made baskets, an assist and spearheaded a 12-3 Lobos run. He helped push the lead to 49-36 with 15:34 left in a game that was never again in doubt as UNM improved to 2-1 on the young season and 2-0 in the building they couldn’t play in at all a season ago.
“I just told them,” Lobo coach Richard Pitino said of a halftime speech to his team, “Trust me. Fight through it. Turn up your energy. Be more disruptive. You know, offensively we play like we have a lot of speed and talent. I don’t know if defensively we have until the beginning (of) that second half.”
That same second-half opening run that House took over saw the Lobos force five of GSU’s 23 turnovers, and UNM scored six of its 29 points off turnovers overall.
House finished the game with a monster stat line of 18 points (actually his lowest total of the season) on 7-of-16 shooting, eight steals and seven assists. He drew seven more fouls, giving him 25 drawn fouls through three games.
After UNM hadn’t had a player record as many as seven steals in a game since Danny Granger in 2003, UNM has had back-to-back games with at least seven after Taryn Todd had seven in Saturday’s loss at Colorado.
Four other Lobos joined House in scoring double figures: Jamal Mashburn Jr. (18 to go along with five rebounds), Todd (16 to go along with a career-high four blocked shots), Javonte Johnson (16, plus 10 rebounds) and Gethro Muscadin (12, in addition to 8 rebounds).
“I think once we settled down, you know, start guarding the ball – we turned them over plenty amounts of time,” Mashburn said of the turning point of the game. “We were able to get out on a (fast break) and run. Once we’re able to do that, we were able to kind of play free and the game just kind of spread out from there.”
Pitino said he told his team before Monday’s game that it would be tougher than records or even game film might suggest. And in the opening half, it was clear the visitors from Louisiana had a mind-set to do more than just quietly collect their $75,000 check from UNM to play the game.
“It’s human nature when you see a Grambling State, and it’s no disrespect, they can beat anybody – they have good talent; they’re well-coached – to take your foot off the gas,” Pitino said. “And I was proud of the way we really revved it up in the second half.” GSU out-rebounded UNM 43-37 – the third straight game the Lobos lost the battle of the boards, but dominated pretty much every other stat line, shooting 45.6% to 35.5% overall, hitting 10-of-28 3-pointers, forcing 23 turnovers and committing just 12.
“A 25-point win. Great. (But) a lot to learn from,” Pitino said.
BOX SCORE: New Mexico 86, Grambling State 61
UP NEXT: Saturday — Montana State at New Mexico, 2 p.m., 770 AM/96.3 FM, TheMW.com (stream)