Lobos blow by WNMU in tune up for Las Vegas tournament - Albuquerque Journal

Lobos blow by WNMU in tune up for Las Vegas tournament

Lobo guard Jeremiah Francis III, right drives by Western New Mexico University defender Dylan Arnette, left, and Robert Banks, center, during Monday’s game in the Pit. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)
He wasn’t in uniform, but Jaelen House’s sprint to midcourt as a media timeout was called with 6:52 remaining in Monday’s aLobo game against Western New Mexico University sure looked like he could have played.

Moments prior, Jeremiah Francis III, who started in place of House, hit a tough layup in traffic for the Lobos — his first bucket of the season.

And as he walked off the court to the team huddle, House and several other Lobos ran out on the court to congratulate the popular backup point guard who had six points and a career-high seven assists with no turnovers in a comfortable 88-63 blowout of the Division II Mustangs on Monday night in the Pit.

“His attitude has been great handling not playing a lot of minutes,” teammate K.J. Jenkins said of Francis. “It’s just a joy to watch when a guy you know has worked hard goes out there and gets to play the game he loves.”

The Lobos (4-1) improved to a perfect 4-0 in the Pit that had an announced Monday night crowd of 8,047.

It was players like Francis and forward Jay Allen-Tovar and even Jenkins off the bench who head coach Richard Pitino said he wanted to focus on — both for the obvious help getting big minutes provides, but also because of UNM’s upcoming two-games-in-two-days Las Vegas Invitational on Thursday and Friday in Nevada.

The Lobos aren’t exactly as healthy as they’d like to be.

House, who sprained his ankle in Saturday’s win over Montana State, did go through shootaround on Monday and could play by Thursday. But the Lobos all season have also been without expected starter Saquan Singleton, who has been cleared to play and might get his first action on Thursday, and Emmanuel Kuac, who is out with a knee injury but expected to log big minutes, too.

“I mean we’re not full strength. It was good to get some of the younger guys some minutes,” said Pitino. “It was good to get a win without anybody getting hurt, for sure.”

Jenkins scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting (4-7 from 3-point range) to go along with five assists and three steals. The Lobos held a plus-33 scoring margin over WNMU in the 25 minutes Jenkins was on the court.

UNM shot 59.6% in the game and 47.4% from beyond the arc (9-of-19), blocked 10 shots and out-rebounded WNMU 39-30. But there were also 15 turnovers and a less-than-satisfying, for Pitino anyway, assist total of 16.

“We’re shooting a great percentage, but our assists need to be higher,” Pitino said. “And we need to find guys like K.J. It’s not always going to be a set (play). Maybe it’s throughout the flow of the offense, where we get a stop and get on the break and we pitch it to him because every time he shoots, I believe it’s gonna go in. He’s that good of a shooter. … He’s got the ultimate green light.”

Jenkins was one of five Lobos to score in double-figures. He and Francis accounted for 12 of the team’s 16 assists. Freshman Birima Seck had 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and zero points in 25 minutes.

As for the game itself, the suspense didn’t last long.

The Mustangs came out and hit their first two shots of the game for a quick 5-0 lead over the host Lobos on an Amarion Cash 3-pointer and a Jordan Doss layup.

Over the next 8 minutes, 8 seconds, the drama was sucked out of the Pit thanks to the following numbers:

• UNM hit 10 of its next 12 shots;

• WNMU hit zero of its next 12 shots;

• UNM went on a 20-0 run;

• Six Lobos scored in the run.

By the time Western’s Andrew Leonard hit a 3-pointer with 10:15 left in the opening half, it was 20-8 UNM and the ball was already rolling toward a comfortable, empty-the-bench type of game the Lobos needed.

WNMU, which is 4-0 as Monday’s game technically was an exhibition for them, was led by 18 points from Doss and 17 from former Oñate High School point guard Tony Avalos.

BOX SCORE: New Mexico 88, Western New Mexico 63

UP NEXT: Thursday, UNM vs. Alabama-Birmingham (Las Vegas Invitational), 5 p.m., FS1, 770 AM/96.3 FM

VIDEO: Richard Pitino’s post game presser with media: VIDEO

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