New Mexico in Australia, Day 8: Late defensive stop preserves the Lobos’ third straight win

Midway through an on-camera interview not long after their final game in Australia, New Mexico standouts Hugh Greenwood and Alex Kirk were interrupted by two men wearing bumblebee costumes.

That the Lobos handled the unusual encounter so deftly was fitting because they proved this week they can overcome unexpected challenges on the floor too.

Despite trailing in the second half in all three games in Australia and not having top freshman Cullen Neal and starting forward Cameron Bairstow for most of the trip, New Mexico managed to return home with three victories. The last one may have been the toughest of them all, an 82-80 win on Sunday against a Gold Coast All-Stars team that included three ex-members of the Australian national team.

One of the keys to the victory was the defense of wing Arthur Edwards on Gold Coast's final possession. The 6-foot-7 junior college transfer forced ex-Fresno State guard Willie Farley into taking a contested 25 footer with five seconds left, then also defended Farley's desperation 30 footer at the buzzer after the first shot missed so badly the offensive rebound caromed all the way beyond the arc.

All in all, New Mexico's fourth-quarter defense was masterful the whole trip. The Lobos erased third-quarter deficits in all three games by holding opponents to an average of just 11.7 points in the fourth quarter.

If the defense when the game was on the line was one encouraging development Sunday for New Mexico, then contributions from Edwards and Cleveland Thomas were another.

Thomas, a 6-foot-3 rising sophomore, showed the scoring firepower to support more heralded teammates Greenwood, Kirk and Kendall Williams, delivering 15 points on only nine shots. And Edwards shot poorly but made up for it with his energy and effort on both ends of the floor, tallying 10 points, six rebounds and three assists to go along with his game-saving defensive stop.

Such contributions bode well for a New Mexico team that needs to find a replacement for wing Tony Snell in its starting lineup and develop a bench capable of easing the burden on its proven stars. The play of Thomas on the final two games of the trip and Edwards on Sunday night suggests they'll help in both those areas, as will Neal once he recovers from the appendicitis that sidelined him this week.

New Mexico coach Craig Neal acknowledged his team still has many areas to improve in a postgame video interview with Greenwood and Kirk but expressed satisfaction overall at the play of his team in Australia. That video is below, complete with the cameo from the two costume-clad men at the start.