Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Lobo men hold off stubborn Southern Utah in opener

UNM’s Jaelen House (right) takes a charge from Southern Utah’s Amound Anderson during the Lobos’ win in the 2022-23 season opener Monday night in the Pit. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)

Well, the Lobos have their new, much-needed big men.

Monday in the pit, in a foul-fest of a game, it was a good thing they still had their little guys.

Returning all-Mountain West Conference guards Jamal Mashburn Jr. scored 24 points and Jaelen House had 23, including 15 of his team’s final 19 points in the final six minutes of an 89-81 season-opening win for UNM over Southern Utah.

“Great win. Tough first opponent,” UNM second-year coach Richard Pitino said. “We’re gonna have a lot of teams like that on the schedule that may not be the marquee names, so to speak, that our fans may know, but that’s a program that won 23 games last year, won 20 the year before that . got some talent. They’re well coached. They made some crazy shots at the end, but we did a really good job of adjusting.”

In a plodding game with 50 fouls called and 49 free throws (UNM shot 36 of them, making 24), it was clear the retooled and bigger Lobos weren’t yet able to handle the physicality they spent the offseason trying to establish on their roster — at least not without getting into foul trouble.

Transfer 6-foot-8 forward Morris Udeze finished with 14 points, but only one rebound in a four-foul night that clearly affected how he crashed the boards and defended in the post.

Fellow transfer forward Josiah Allick, also 6-8 and also with four fouls cutting into his ability to get into any sort of flow, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. But he failed to score.

And the Lobos were out-rebounded 40-38, giving some of the announced 8,181 in the Pit flashbacks to last season when the battle of the boards was seldom won by the home team.

“They were a team that we knew wanted to get up a lot of threes and we knew that there were going to be long rebounds,” Mashburn said. “But we weren’t able to get those rebounds and they were able to get some second chance points and second chance opportunities. We’ve got clean those up, hitting bodies and just being more physical.”

Southern Utah grabbed 13 offensive boards and converted that into 12 second chance points (UNM had 12 offensive boards and 11 second chance points). One sliver of solace about the rebounding loss for the Lobos might come from the reality that SUU allowed opponents to grab the 12th-lowest (out of 358 Division I teams) percent of offensive rebounds per game last season at 22.5%. The Lobos on Monday grabbed 30.8% of their available offensive rebounds.

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As for those 3-pointers, Southern Utah hit 11-of-32 from beyond the arc (34.4%), including six from Tevian Jones — three of them banked in off the glass — to give him a game-high 28 points and keep the visitors in the game.

But in the end, it was Mashburn and House that made the difference. Mashburn hit 7-of-13 shots — five of them mid-range jumpers — to go along with four assists. And House’s 23 points went along with six steals, seven assists and just one turnover as he controlled the court much of the game.

“I thought kind of to your point, House and Mash, when we needed them to, stepped up and made really big plays,” Pitino said. “And that’s what veterans who have played in this building and played in the system do. We settled in offensively much better in the second half. But it was hard to coach in the first half with all that foul trouble.”

UP NEXT: Friday, South Alabama vs. UNM, the Pit, 7 pm, 770 AM/96.3 FM, TheMW.com/watch (stream)

BOX SCORE: New Mexico 89, Southern Utah 81

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