Guards come up big in a season-opening win over Southern Utah

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Lobos men’s basketball team tipped off their season Monday night with an 89-81 win against Southern Utah Thunderbirds at The Pit.

The finish became scrappy towards the end, but the Lobos held onto their lead the whole game and pulled it off. 

Last year, Jamal Mashburn Jr. led the team in scoring. This season, the junior guard started out no different as he racked up a team-high of 24 points, coupled with five rebounds and four assists. 

“It felt amazing,” Mashburn Jr. said. “It felt good just to get back and get running with these guys, I know CSU Pueblo was an exhibition but it felt good to have a real one under our belt.”

Jamal Mashburn Jr. efforts came from pulling out different moves into a classic midrange jumper, hitting that multiple times. Paired up with Mashburn Jr.’s smooth play was Jaelen’s House’s intense energy that kept the Lobos afloat throughout the entity of the game.

House finished with 23 points, three rebounds, and seven assists.

Diving for loose balls, taking charges, and scrapping for steals was just a piece of House’s contribution. He also made some major plays, like hitting a three-pointer late in the first half over a Thunderbird, then immediately heading back to take a charge and hold onto the momentum.

House and Mashburn Jr. were huge in keeping the game in flow and, while things got tough in different stretches, the Lobos held onto the lead the entire game.

“I thought House and Mash[burn] made big plays at the end,” Coach Richard Pitino said.

The Lobos shot 48% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc.

The Lobos tried to play with more size Monday too, but foul trouble early in the game, from a different defense the Lobos had scouted out, contributed to more guard-heavy plays.

“They were in a matchup zone, that probably threw us off a little bit, we didn’t have any film on them, so it wasn’t your standard man-to-man,” Coach Pitino said.

With a mix of different floaters and post moves down low, graduate student Morris Udeze recorded 14 points. The 6-foot-8-inch graduate forward only grabbed one rebound, but also racked up four fouls throughout the night.

The Lobos held onto the lead the whole game, but the Thunderbirds closed their deficit to just a few points toward the end of the second half. Besides the barrage of five 3-pointers from the Thunderbirds with four minutes to go in the game, there were a few other factors that led to the game being so close.

“Rebound, second-chance points. That was crazy, but that’s what happens in basketball,” KJ Jenkins said.

The redshirt senior racked up nine points off the bench and meshed well in different rotations with plus-16 – the highest plus-minus on the team. 

This is Coach Pitino’s second year coaching the Lobos and, along with the win, he was happy to see the fans back in the stands.

“Awesome playing in The Pit with no mask mandates, vaccine mandate. It was fun to have everyone back,” Coach Pitino said.

The Lobos take on South Alabama, Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m., in another home game at The Pit.