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If you look at Alex Kirk’s stat line and consider the University of New Mexico set a school record in blocked shots, you would think the 81-65 score Friday in the Charleston Classic leaned heavily toward Lobos.
Despite a career-high 32 points from UNM’s 7-footer and despite 12 blocked shots by UNM, the Lobos were dumped into the consolation bracket thanks to a 16-point non-conference loss to UMass. The Lobos play Davidson at 10 a.m. Sunday. Davidson fell to Clemson 85-54 Friday night.
“Alex played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play,” said Lobo head coach Craig Neal. “He went into beast mode and they couldn’t stop him.”
The Lobos needed Kirk to play like a beast on Friday in Charleston. Not too many other Lobos came with their A games probably, in part, a product of their tiring double-overtime win over Alabama-Birmingham Thursday.
“I’m not making an excuse for our guys,” said Neal of the possibility his Lobos were a little leg weary. “I thought I had them prepared for the press, but we didn’t handle it very well.”
The UMass press hurt the Lobos. But so did the UNM defense which allowed the Minutemen to throw out a key run in the first half and another key run in the second half that pulled UMass out of a 61-61 tie with 7:56 to go and into a commanding 77-61 lead with 1:34 to play.
“I thought our kids played hard,” said Neal, who saw his Lobos drop to 3-1 on the season. UMass is 5-0. “We got to the 61-61 mark (coming back from 57-50) and I thought we’d be in good shape.
“I thought our kids gave great effort, but we aren’t doing a good job of guarding in the second half.”
The Lobos were down 38-33 at the half before scratching back into the 61-61 tie.
UMass ended the game with a 15-6 edge in fast-break points, but also had a 46-26 edge in points in the paint. Kirk, who had five blocks, got 12 of his 32 points from behind the 3-point line.
UMass also had 18 offensive rebounds and hit seven 3-pointers. UNM shot 39 percent from the floor (25 of 64) with Kirk going 11-for-26.
UNM was chilly from long range going 5 of 18 from 3-point range and 1 of 9 in the second half. The Minutemen shot 41.2 percent (7-for-17) from 3-point land and 43.2 percent overall.
UMass played on Thursday in a game that had 61 fouls called. There were 30 called against the Lobos.
“It was weird,” Neal said of the different way the game was called. “Every game has been called differently. Today’s game was like an NCAA tournament. Their players realized that they (refs) weren’t going to call fouls and they went at it and played hard.”
The Minutemen had a slight edge in rebounding, 43-41. Chaz Williams led UMass with 19 points, Raphiael Putney had 18 and Cady Lalanne had 16 points and 14 boards.
UMass had four players in double figures.
Williams finished with 13 points and five assists for UNM, but had seven turnovers. Cameron Bairstow ha eight points and only two rebounds. Starters Cleveland Thomas and Hugh Greenwood combined to go 1-of-8 from the field.
Cullen Neal had six turnovers off the bench and UNM got only 10 points from its reserves. Nick Banyard had four blocked shots off the bench.
“We could never get into the secondary part of our offense,” said Neal. “We’d stay on one side and take the first shot that was open. I want to see how our guys bounce back.”