New Mexico senior forward Cameron Bairstow scored a career-high 29 points to pace five players in double figures as the No. 22 Lobos handed Charleston Southern a 109-93 loss at The Pit on Sunday night.
New Mexico (2-0) center Alex Kirk added a double-double of 24 points and 13 rebounds, while reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Kendall Williams chipped in a double-double of 20 points and ten assists. The Lobos' size proved to be too much for the Bucs, as New Mexico enjoyed a 38-22 rebounding advantage and shot nearly 60 percent from the floor. UNM also benefited at the free-throw line because of its physicality, hitting 31-of-42 attempts and forcing CSU into foul trouble.
CSU (2-2) led twice in the first half and was still within 31-27 following an Arlon Harper steal and dunk at the 7:25 mark, but UNM went on a 14-2 run to take control and led by as many as 31 in the second half.
"I thought their size made a significant difference in the game," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "I thought they executed extremely well. They're a legitimate top-20 or top-15 team and certainly their size presented us a lot of problems."
The Bucs received strong efforts from juniors Saah Nimley and Paul Gombwer. Nimley notched his first double-double of the year with 24 points and a career-high tying 12 assists. Gombwer, meanwhile, set a new career-high with 17 points and led CSU with five rebounds. CSU hit a season-high 15 three-pointers and performed well offensively in the second half, connecting on 57 percent of its shots overall while sinking 11-of-19 from beyond the arc.
"These games help us get better," Radebaugh said. "We won't face that size again many more times. We competed for forty minutes and that's what I wanted. We got better. We showed in the second half that when we execute and share the ball, we are very good offensively. They exposed some weaknesses for us and we'll work to correct those weaknesses going forward."
Sheldon Strickland (17 points), Harper (15 points) and Matt Kennedy (11 points) joined Nimley and Gombwer in double digits for CSU.
The Bucs hung tough in the early going against a New Mexico team returning four starters from last year's 29-win squad that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Nimley scored his first eight points of the game consecutively to give CSU a 16-15 lead with 13:10 left in the first half. He twice drew fouls on three-point attempts and hit six free throws overall during the stretch while also coming up with a steal and layup in transition.
Harper buried a contested three over the outstretched hand of the 7'0" Kirk to move CSU in front, 21-19, with 12:06 remaining in the opening stanza, but the Bucs would never lead again.
Bairstow controlled play for New Mexico in the first half, hitting for 21 of his 29 points while getting to the free-throw line 12 times. He was one of five different players to score for the Lobos during the crucial 14-2 spurt that gave UNM a double-digit lead for good. Williams started the charge with a triple from the left corner, and Kirk helped highlight the juncture with a three-point play off a dunk. Deshawn Delaney capped the run with a three of his own, giving UNM a 45-29 lead with 5:09 left in the period.
Trailing 52-36 at halftime, CSU cut its deficit to twelve in the opening 1:42 of the second half on threes by Kennedy and Strickland. Strickland swished home two more triples, and Gombwer hit one, to keep the Bucs within 66-51 with 15:53 left.
UNM then responded with 16 straight points to take an 82-51 lead and put the game away. Layups by New Mexico senior guard Hugh Greenwood book-ended the run, which was also highlighted by another Bairstow bucket and a three by Cullen Neal, the son of Lobos' head coach Craig Neal.
CSU kept competing hard in front of a crowd of 14,146 at The Pit, as it ran off several mini-runs to force Neal to substitute his regular rotation players back into the game. Nimley provided the spark for the Bucs, tallying 16 of his 24 points and eight of his 12 helpers after intermission.
CSU continues a difficult road swing Wednesday at No. 25/23 Baylor. The Bears are the defending NIT champions and improved to 3-0 with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday. Tipoff in Waco, Texas is set for 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday.