Charleston Southern-New Mexico Preview


Unlike the past few seasons, New Mexico is prepared to push the pace under first-year coach Craig Neal.

The No. 22 Lobos won't be the only ones comfortable running the floor when they host fast-paced Charleston Southern on Sunday.

New Mexico rarely increased the tempo while averaging no more than 75.9 points per game with Steve Alford as coach the past six seasons. However, with Alford now at UCLA, long-time assistant Neal showed he's ready to speed things up after rolling to an 88-52 season-opening victory over Alabama A&M on Nov. 9.

Cameron Bairstow had 22 points with 11 rebounds, Alex Kirk had 16 with 12 boards and Kendall Williams added 17 with seven assists as the Lobos shot 58.5 percent, held a 14-5 advantage on fast-break points and committed only nine turnovers while playing at an up-tempo pace.

"I want to continue to play at that tempo," Neal told New Mexico's official website. "That's the way I envision our guys playing. I think we can play better."

The Lobos outscored the Bulldogs 40-12 in the paint and outrebounded them 48-27. New Mexico held Alabama A&M to 26.8 percent shooting and used its dominance on the boards to often run the floor in transition.

"When we play good defense, it sets up good transition," said the senior Bairstow, who averaged career highs of 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 35 games and 19 starts last season.

A winner in 22 of 23 at home, New Mexico has won nine straight at The Pit by an average margin of 15.6 points. The Lobos will look to improve to 3-0 all-time versus Charleston Southern (2-1), which lost 76-69 at New Mexico in 2006 in the most recent meeting.

The Buccaneers averaged 73.8 points per game while going 19-13 and winning the Big South regular-season title in 2012-13. However, they came out of the gate running this season while scoring 225 points and shooting 60.0 percent, including 25 of 55 from 3-point range, to open with victories over Johnson and Delaware.

Charleston Southern was contained much better while being held to 41.0 percent shooting during an 80-78 overtime loss to UNC-Wilmington on Wednesday. The Buccaneers led by 13 midway through the second half, but Wilmington finished the half on an 11-3 run and used a Addison Spruill's 3-pointer with 24 seconds left in overtime to prevail.

After committing 21 turnovers in the first two games, Charleston Southern had 19 and shot worse than 63.0 percent from the free-throw line (15 for 25) for the second straight contest.

"There were some positives to take out of this game," Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "But when you miss 10 free throws and turn the ball over 19 times, it is tough to win.

"We knew our schedule was difficult. We knew it was going to be tough. We are a good basketball team but we need to get better from this game."

Guards Saah Nimley (15.7 points per game) and Matt Kennedy (15.3 ppg) lead six Bulldogs averaging at least 11.5 points per game.