It took awhile, but if Saturday night showed anything about the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, it was what it can be when its senior leaders follow one simple message their coach has been trying to convey.
“Do what you do,” Lobos coach Craig Neal said. “That’s what I’ve been telling them all along.”
In the Lobos’ 66-60 road win over Utah State, seniors Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney, for the first time in the same game in several weeks, found their comfort zone, leading to a combined 37 points.
In Greenwood’s 22 points and career-high six made 3-pointers, the 6-foot-3 Aussie got back to being a facilitator first, before looking to score. There were no forced jumpers or off-balance, fadeaway shots.
Greenwood didn’t even attempt his first shot until 13 minutes and 30 seconds had ticked off the clock.
“Hugh Greenwood finally, finally played the way he’s capable of playing – letting the game come to him, not forcing any shots, shooting the open shots and he’s up at 22 points,” Neal said. “I told him, I said ‘just play your game and run the team.'”
Greenwood acknowledges his evolution back toward more of a facilitating guard who sets up his team for offensive success before looking for his own offense has taken longer than he thought. That’s despite having mastered that role during his first three seasons at UNM.
He had prepared since last April to play an off guard, wing position, something he’s found hard at times to unlearn since starting point guard Cullen Neal went down with an injury Nov. 20.
“I’m just still trying to find my rhythm and my role,” Greenwood said. “I know it’s been awhile now (since Cullen Neal’s injury), but working so hard in the offseason focussing on playing that wing spot then to move back to that point spot, it’s just finding when I can score and when I can facilitate. … I just did a better job of facilitating and getting others involved. If I get others involved first, then I’ll get my shots.”
In Delaney’s 15 points scored, all seven of his baskets were either off aggressive drives to the basket resulting in a layup or dunk or as a result of an offensive rebound leading to a putback dunk. He did not make a jump shot. But, unlike his recent struggles (he averaged just 3.5 points per game vs. Colorado State and San Diego State after averaging 14.4 points per game prior), he didn’t allow a lack of those jump shots falling to take him out of the game mentally.
“He’s a guy who’s not going to say a whole lot,” Greenwood said. “I’ve said it over and over, he’s going to lead by example. He did that tonight, was aggressive from the get-go. It built up his confidence. He made some big plays.”
And that, Greenwood added, will have to continue from both seniors if the Lobos are going to keep themselves in contention in the Mountain West.
“We need that moving forward,” he said. “If we can get he and I playing at a high level and other guys contributing, we can be pretty successful.”
NOODLES ON STEW: After Saturday’s win, Neal had plenty of high praise for Stew Morrill, who at 62 years old announced on Friday he will retire from coaching at season’s end with 611 career victories, and counting, to his credit.
It also had the tone of some wishful thinking for the future for the second-year coach, or for almost any coach in the league not named Steve Fisher (no other MWC head coach has been tenured at his current school more than six seasons after Morrill and Fisher).
“It’s a credit to their administration and to their AD to let a program build and go and have the stability of having him here that long,” Neal said. “Like (Rick) Majerus at Utah, like Steve Fisher at San Diego State, like Randy Bennett at St. Mary’s. When you trust in the guy running the program and you let him stay here awhile, you’re going to have great success and I think those programs, especially this one with Stew, has shown that.”
MWC SUSPENSIONS: The Mountain West on Sunday evening announced Air Force freshman guard Matt Mooney and Colorado State senior forward J.J. Avila have each been suspended for their next games because of a fight during Saturday’s game in Colorado Springs.
Mooney, who was ejected from that game for throwing a punch, will miss Wednesday’s game in the Pit against the Lobos. The 6-foot-3 guard averages 7.0 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just under 20 minutes per game for the Falcons. His suspension, because of the punch, carries an automatic suspension per NCAA rules.
Avila, the 6-8 forward who is in the conversation for Mountain West Player of the Year averaging 15.2 points (seventh in league), 7.5 rebounds (third) and 3.3 assists (fifth), will miss CSU’s Wednesday home game against Nevada. The league ruled he warranted a suspension despite game officials ruling at the time he shouldn’t be ejected.