For 31 minutes on Sunday evening in the Pit, defense was optional.
For the final nine, the Lobos could do no wrong on either end of the floor, closing on a 23-6 run to win the Lobo Classic title game 98-74 over Northern Colorado.
Having Morris Udeze record one of the Pit’s all-time single performances didn’t hurt the home team’s chances, either.
The 6-foot-8 graduate transfer forward from Wichita State scored 33 points to go along with 14 rebounds, 10 fouls drawn and was a perfect 13-of-13 at the free throw line, running away with Lobo Classic MVP honors for the three-day event.
“It felt great, man,” a smiling Udeze said after the game. “I mean, I got a good night’s sleep. Woke up and man, God blessed me. I’m just grateful to God, my coaches and my teammates really for putting me in this position.”
The last Lobo to put in a 33-point, 14-rebound game was Ruben Douglas on March 1, 2003, in the Pit against Utah.
For the Lobos, that’s a 6-0 start on the young season with their biggest test thus far looming Wednesday in California at Saint Mary’s.
But Sunday didn’t come as easy as the final score might suggest, at least not for the first 31 minutes.
With 8:50 left in the game, Northern Colorado (3-5) pulled within seven points at 75-68 on a Riley Abercrombie 3-pointer (the Bears hit 12 of them in the game) and to that point were shooting a net-scorching 66.7% from the field in the game.
Guard Dalton Knecht was the best among them, too. The 6-6 senior finished the game with 29 points and 11 rebounds while hitting four of his team’s dozen 3-pointers.
“It was tough. They were coming down hitting shots, man,” Udeze said. “It’s tough to play a team who’s consistently hitting 3s like that. We tried to stay steady. We kind of knew if we just kept playing our game, in the second half, the other team is going to get tired.”
Some combination of the fatigue Udeze alluded to kicking in for UNC, the percentages just playing out (the Bears couldn’t keep shooting that well all game, could they?) or the Lobos finally buckling down on defense like they had done so impressively the three previous games, the final 8:50 of Sunday’s game turned into a blowout.
The Lobos scored the next 16 points over a 3 minute, 20 second span — nine of those points from senior point guard Jaelen House, who had 22 in the games — and UNC hit only two of its final 16 shots in the game after that Abercrombie 3-pointer.
“They’re a very good offensive team. We just ended up having to switch all ball screens and try to play one on one, and I thought it helped us pull away,” Lobo coach Richard Pitino said. “Morris Udeze was phenomenal. Our guys did a great job of finding him. He did an unbelievable job of making free throws for a guy who hasn’t been shooting great from the foul line. Jaelen House bounced back, played a great game. Mash (junior guard Jamal Mashburn Jr., who had 15 points) was rock solid. So it was a good win. It really was.”
UNM dominated the boards, out-rebounding UNC 41-22 and 17-7 on the offensive glass, leading to a 15-3 advantage in second chance points. The Lobos also made the Bears pay for the 22 fouls they committed, going 19 of 20 at the charity stripe (95%).
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Udeze was voted the MVP of the three-day Lobo Classic.
For three games — double-digit wins over Jacksonville State, North Dakota State and Northern Colorado — Udeze’s statline was:
• 22.3 points per game
• 7.3 rebounds per game
• 24-36 FGs (66.7%)
• 19-21 FTs (90.5%)
He was joined on the Lobo Classic All-Tournament team by Mashburn. UNC’s Knecht and guard Daylen Kountz were also voted to the all-tourney team as was Jacksonville State guard Demaree King.
BOX SCORE: New Mexico 98, Northern Colorado 74
UP NEXT: Wednesday — New Mexico at Saint Mary’s, 8 p.m., 770 AM/96.3 FM, WCC Network (stream)
EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK: For some extra notes, quotes, stats and analysis from Sunday’s Lobo game, including offering up some historical perspective on just where Udeze’s performance ranks in Lobo history, read Geoff Grammer’s Emptying the Notebook column.