Pretty or not, Lobos improve to 5-0 - Albuquerque Journal

Pretty or not, Lobos improve to 5-0

UNM’s Morris Udeze, left, dunks against North Dakota State’s Andrew Morgan during Saturday’s game at the Pit. The Lobos beat the Bison 76-55. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And depending on what you were looking for, Saturday’s 76-55 UNM Lobos win over North Dakota State in the second day of the Lobo Classic in the Pit was either a gem or a bit of a dud, at least in the first half.

The end result — a 21-point victory, a balanced stat sheet, some grind-it-out defensive possessions and the program’s first 5-0 start since the 2012-13 season — looked just fine to the Lobos.

“Everybody’s contributing, and that’s what a team is all about,” said Lobo junior guard Jamal Mashburn Jr, who led the team in scoring with 19 points. “I mean, if we want to be in the conversation come March, this is what we need.”

North Dakota State (1-6) was able to ugly things up just enough in the first half to keep an announced Pit crowd of 8,715 a little uncomfortable early on Saturday evening. The Bison had nine second chance points in the first half off nine offensive rebounds and the Lobos — one of the national leaders in fewest turnovers through their first four games — had eight turnovers in the opening half and couldn’t find much rhythm on offense.

But poise was never lost. And neither was defense.

UNM held NDSU to 21.6% shooting in the opening half — the lowest for any half in the Richard Pitino era — and despite all their own offensive struggles, the Lobos turned a 22-22 tie with six minutes left in the half into a 32-25 halftime lead they would never look back from.

The offense that struggled in the first half was back to normal in a 44-point second half. And the Lobos at the break successfully cleaned up their biggest deficiencies of the opening half over the final 20 minutes.

“The clear reason why we were able to build a lead in the second half was we stopped giving up offensive rebounds,” said Pitino. “We held them to one offensive rebound in the second half. And we stopped turning the ball over. We only had three turnovers in the second half. That was the reason why it was a little closer than we anticipated. Not that I didn’t think North Dakota State — I thought they scrapped and they were tough. But we were able to kind of grind it out.”

Mashburn’s 19 led four Lobos in double figures. The top seven in the rotation scored between 6 and 19 points and five Lobos had five or more rebounds.

Jaelen House, who had his second consecutive poor shooting night, still had a positive impact on the Lobo win with a final statline of 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting to go along with 6 assists, just one turnover, three blocked shots and two steals.

NDSU finished the game shooting 30.5% (18-of-59) and the Lobos out-rebounded the Bison 42-37.

One day after scoring 31 points in the Pit against Northern Colorado on Friday, NDSU forward Grant Nelson was held by the Lobos — and often senior forward Josiah Allick — to 1-of-7 shooting and fouled out with just 3 points in 20 minutes.

“It’s kind of about keep developing our defense, because we have all the offensive weapons we could need,” said Allick, who had 10 points, 9 rebounds and drew seven fouls, four of which were on Nelson. “So, once we get our defense kind of going — which we’re on the right path — once we get that going, I think we’ll be where we need to be.”

NOTE: Once the postgame stats were input into the analytics site, the Lobos were moved up to No. 96 out of 363 Division I teams — thanks in large part to continued improvement in their defensive efficiency statistics.

UNM hasn’t been in the KenPom Top 100 since January of 2020.

UNM finished the 2020-21 season rated 294th and have climbed about 200 spots over the past 37 games since Pitino was hired. The Lobos finished rated 161st last season.

UP NEXT: The Lobos (5-0) host Northern Colorado (3-4) in the final game of the Lobo Classic at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday in the Pit.

BOX SCORE: New Mexico 76, North Dakota State 55

EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK: For additional notes, quotes, analysis and more from Saturday’s game, including how Jaelen House is showing his most growth in games he struggles in this season, read the Emptying the Notebook column.

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