ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) New Mexico used a key defensive stand early in the second half, and Elijah Brown scored a game-high 25 points Saturday to help the Lobos beat Northern Iowa 76-5.
”I think it was important because it didn’t let them get any momentum,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said of the plays that helped stave off the Panthers (6-3).
Leading 44-38, the Lobos (6-2) forced a turnover by Wes Washpun on a fastbreak then after a steal by Wyatt Lohaus, Obij Aget drew a charge for New Mexico. And on the ensuing possession, defensive pressure in the open court caused Lohaus to throw it away.
”Those were two important possessions when you’re in the open floor on a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 and Wes has the ball and you have to get some points out of those possessions,” said Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson. ”Then you have a ball game for at least another three or four minutes.”
That helped start the Lobos on a quick 7-0 burst that pushed the score to 51-38.
Brown scored the final five points of the first half, capping an 8-0 Lobos’ run that broke a 27-27 tie – the seventh of the first half. The Panthers would get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
Tim Williams added 19 for New Mexico while Brown grabbed seven rebounds.
Northern Iowa got 12 off the bench from Lohaus, while leading scorer Washpun scored 10, six below his average.
Northern Iowa particularly struggled with the deep ball, going 6 of 25 from 3-point range.
New Mexico’s second-leading scorer Cullen Neal also struggled with his shot, going 1-for-11, including missing all five of his 3-pointers, to finish with two points.
The Panthers got out to a 7-1 lead before Brown made New Mexico’s first bucket at the 4:26 mark, starting an 8-0 run. The teams then traded points until the Lobos gained a clear advantage in the final two minutes of the first half.
”We got off to a bad start down 7-1,” Neal said. ”But I think our guys really buckled down and guarded them. We were able to guard them at a high level. Our 3-point defense has been tremendous and they’re really good at that.”
Neal credited the Lobos’ scheme for shutting down the outside.
”I think the zone took them out of their game plan,” he said. ”The zone took them out of penetrating, getting in the lane and getting more open shots. We made their 3-point shooters have to be creative to have to get their own shots. I think that’s why we were successful.”
New Mexico: After starting out 0 for 6 from the field, the Lobos finished the first half going 13-for-20
Northern Iowa: The Panthers committed a season-low four turnovers against George Mason last time out. They turned it over six times in the first half Saturday and finished with 15.
New Mexico plays host to rival New Mexico State Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Northern Iowa is home against Iowa State on Saturday at 6 p.m.