Lobos’ inside game overpowers Grand Canyon

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The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — For much of the season, New Mexico has been a three-man basketball team offensively with Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk carrying more than their fair share of the scoring load.

But new options are starting to emerge for the Lobos as they try to patch the gap left by injured point guard Hugh Greenwood, who is expected back when the schedule resumes Jan. 4 with the start of Mountain West play against Colorado State.

Cullen Neal did an admirable job of running the point Monday, finishing with 18 points and seven assists, to lead New Mexico to an 80-68 win over Grand Canyon.

Neal drilled an open 3-pointer early in the game, then fed his teammates for buckets on three consecutive possessions the help the Lobos get out to a 15-3 lead in which every starter scored.

It’s all part of a renewed emphasis on distributing the ball, said Neal’s father, Lobos coach Craig Neal.

“It feels good that we’re finally making some shots,” he said. “I think our guys are really gelling and trusting their teammates and making the extra pass. I told the guys just the last two games, the only way you’re going to get back to your winning ways is if you’re playing together and sharing the ball.”

That was evident throughout with New Mexico collecting 20 assists on its 25 baskets.

“I think they’re making the extra pass,” coach Neal said. “I think they’re trusting in their teammates. And I think all of them are playing well together.”

Kendall Williams delivered eight assists to go along with his 15 points while Alex Kirk had his eighth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

But Kirk and fellow frontcourt mate Cameron Bairstow, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, had to contend with a collapsing Antelopes’ defense that tried to deny the paint.

“I thought we did a really good job of sharing the ball tonight,” coach Neal said. “They came out early and trapped and I thought Alex and Cam made some great passes out of the double teams and we were able to take advantage of that.”
Grand Canyon (5-6) was led by Daniel Alexander’s 18 points. The forward went 4-of-7 on 3-pointers.

Three other Antelopes reached double figures with Blake Davis chipping in 13 off the bench.

But New Mexico was able to get production from other players, which has made things easier for the Lobos’ top three scorers, Williams said.

“I’m very excited with the production we’re getting from those players and even the situation of how the whole team is shaping up,” he said.

“We have some good guys coming off the bench right now. Once we get Greenwood back, it’s really going to boost us that much further.”

Lobos 75, Marquette 68
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — New Mexico coach Craig Neal had to be happy with his son, Cullen, Saturday night.

And the Lobos have to be content playing in Las Vegas.

Freshman Cullen Neal scored a career high 24 points, including six 3-pointers to lead New Mexico past Marquette 75-68 at the MGM Grand Showcase benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer on Saturday night.

Neal attempted eight 3-point shots and was 8 of 12 from the field. His six 3-pointers also were a career high.

“I wasn’t aware of (of my points). I’m just trying to focus on the main goal,” said Cullen Neal, whose previous high this year was 15 points vs. Davidson Nov. 24. “I’m getting into the flow. The big men were giving me the passes.”

Cameron Bairstow added 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists for New Mexico (8-3). Bairstow hit all eight of his free throw attempts. Kendall Williams added 14 points, while Deshawn Delaney had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Lobos converted 18 of 24 from the free-throw line.

“We shot the ball better from the free-throw line,” coach Neal said. “I think we’re right at 76 percent. I think that’s the best we had in a long time. I can’t figure out a free-throw defense. Teams are shooting 79 percent against us. It was good to make free-throws at the end to win it.”

Marquette meanwhile was 9 of 14 from the line.

While Cullen is in his first year with the Lobos, coach Neal is at the helm in his first year, taking over for Steve Alford.

“He’s trusting his teammates and making plays,” coach Neal said. “As a coach, I knew he could do that. As a dad, I want him to be perfect. I was happy he had a breakout game.”

Jake Thomas led Marquette (7-5) with 17 points, converting four 3-pointers. Jamil Wilson added 15 points, while Todd Mayo had 10.

Marquette was outscored 45-31 in the second half.

After trailing 37-30 at halftime and later by nine, the Lobos hit 8 of their first 12 second-half shots to rally for a 53-47 advantage with 11:53 to go.