It may have started off about as ugly as it could be, but the finished product was just what the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team needed heading into Saturday’s rivalry rematch with New Mexico State.
Senior guard Deshawn Delaney shook off a slow start – for him and for the entire Lobos team – and finished with 22 points, which tied a career high, and 13 rebounds, a new career best, to lead UNM to an eventually dominating 76-55 win over Central Arkansas on Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 13,117 in the Pit.
“We don’t have a lot of room for error and if we don’t play hard all the time and play hard every possession, then we’re going to struggle like we did today (early in the game),” UNM coach Craig Neal said.
While the Lobos (7-3) held the Bears (0-9) to 35.7 percent shooting and just 55 points, the second year Lobos coach wasn’t particularly pleased with his team’s ability, or at times inability, to stop the outmanned visitors from scoring.
“I didn’t think our defense was very good,” Neal said. “They went eight minutes without a basket in the second half, but I still don’t think our defense was very good.”
UNM, which entered the game ranked No. 6 in the country in 3-point defense, watched Central Arkansas bank in a 3-pointer on its first possession, drain another trey on the second possession and by the time Albert Christensson connected on UCA’s fourth triple with 13:37 remaining in the first half, the Bears were up on the Lobos 14-5. UNM’s shooting woes also contributed to another slow start at home as the team started the game missing eight of its first nine shots.
UNM again suited up just eight scholarship players and nine total for the game as injuries continue to take their toll on the roster.
UCA led 17-12 when junior forward Jordan Goodman checked into the game with 10:57 remaining in the game after an injury-plagued past six months that have prevented him from playing or even practicing much with the Lobos. Now healthy, he ran onto the court to a huge ovation and UNM promptly responded with a 13-0 scoring run, leading 25-17 with 6:06 left in the opening half.
The Lobos led 35-30 at the break, and senior Hugh Greenwood finished with 14 points, including a season-high four 3-pointers.
In the second half, it was all Delaney thanks to a little motivation from Neal.
“It was my coach,” Delaney said. “He got on me really hard, challenging me. That’s what got me going.”
The senior wing from Chicago had 16 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two dunks in the second half, waking up the Pit crowd and the Lobos offense. UNM shot 50 percent (15-of-30) in the second half to win comfortably and finished with a season high 21 assists on their 27 made field goals.
Goodman chipped in 13 points in 19 minutes off the bench, though still is clearly getting his game legs back under him. Reserve point guard Tim Jacobs had three points, four rebounds and nine assists in 23 minutes off the bench.
UCA had five players score between 10 and 12 points after back-to-back games of holding an opponent without a double-figure scorer.