Fans may have thought the Lobo men’s big win was on Saturday in San Diego.
But UNM’s veteran stars all showed up Tuesday and played like the stage was as big and lights were as bright as ever, ensuring there would be no letdown in a dominant 77-57 win over San Jose State in front of an announced Pit crowd of 11,519.
“Every game we play in this Mountain West is important because we know how competitive this conference is,” said Lobo junior guard Jamal Mashburn, Jr., who reached 20 points for the third consecutive game and fifth in his past six games. “We know how well prepared teams are, and we got to be ready from the jump every single day.”
Tuesday’s game featured the two teams that have made the most significant jumps in the country in both the NCAA NET rankings and KenPom.com rankings since the end of the 2020-21 season when UNM hired Richard Pitino and San Jose State hired Tim Miles. They are a pair of former Big Ten coaches trying to rebuild in the Mountain West.
For UNM (17-2, 4-2 Mountain West), Tuesday night’s win showed off all their weapons:
• Improved defense: SJSU shot just 26.5% in the first half and 33.9% for the game
• One of the best backcourts in the country: Mashburn had 20 points and Jaelen House had 20 points and five assists and the two guards combined to add 12 rebounds
• Improved inside play: Senior post Morris Udeze had his fourth consecutive double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds
• Rebounding: UNM out-rebounded San Jose State 42-30 when the Spartans entered the game out-rebounding teams by 9.2 boards per game.
“I think the biggest thing that we’re really starting to do is rebound the ball,” said Pitino. “They’re plus-10 (on) the glass (coming into the game), and we were obviously plus-12 (rebounding in Tuesday’s game). So that’s been a big key for us.”
Added Udeze, who was the team’s leading scorer earlier in the season but has been on a rebounding tear of late and leads the Mountain West in rebounding (8.6 per game overall and 11.0 in league games):
“I was just going … thinking less of scoring and just go to the boards. I feel like I can make a big difference and help this team a lot just by rebounding better. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
UNM used a 9-0 run early in the game for a 13-7 lead with 13:14 left in the opening half.
The Lobos were steady throughout, and their largest lead was the final margin of 20.
But that 26.5% shooting they held SJSU (12-7, 3-3 Mountain West) to in the opening half was what really set the tone for the contest.
“I think we did a good job of contesting,” Mashburn said. “They can really shoot the ball. They’re a team that really gets a lot of 3s up, but we did a great job of getting to shooters and contesting them to make them a little bit uncomfortable. If they were a 40% three point shooter, our contests probably made it a 32% shot.”
SJSU’s Omari Moore finished with a game-high 24 points and five assists, but needed 23 shots to get there. The rest of the SJSU roster was held to 12-of-39 shooting (30.8%) and 33 points.
“They’re very much improved,” Pitino said of SJSU. “Tim has done an amazing job of adding some key pieces to go along with Omari Moore, who I think is one of the best guards in the league.”
UNM had just one steal, a season low (the previous low was four in two games). That helped contribute to SJSU to commit only four turnovers, and the Spartans outscored UNM in points off turnovers 15-2.
BOX SCORE: New Mexico 77, San Jose St. 57
UP NEXT: Boise State at New Mexico, 9 p.m., Friday, FS1, 770 AM/96.3 FM
EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK: For more news, notes and analysis form Tuesday’s game, with a closer look at the rebounding and double-double tear Morris Udeze has been on, read Emptying the Notebook.
VIDEO: Here is the video of the postgame media sessions with Richard Pitino, Jamal Mashburn, Jr., and Morris Udeze: