New Mexico tops Texas Southern 86-57
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) At one point in Friday's season opener, New Mexico guard Elijah Brown came over to coach Craig Neal, hugged him and thanked him.
When Neal asked Brown why, Brown told his coach, ''Thanks for having me here.''
Brown, a transfer from Butler, saw his first action for the first time in a year. He and the Lobos scored 54 first-half points Friday night, spearheading New Mexico to an 86-57 season-opening victory over Texas Southern.
New Mexico has three key starters on this year's team who sat out last season. Guard Cullen Neal, the coach's son, missed last season to an ankle injury. Brown and forward Tim Williams, formerly of Samford University, did not play last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
''I had tears in my eyes, to be honest, going out there and hearing the fans and the music, seeing my teammates,'' Brown said. ''Everyone was just so ready.''
The three made the most of their first regular-season game. Cullen Neal scored 22 points to pace the Lobos, hitting 8 of 15 attempts from the field. Williams added 17 by making all but one shot, and Brown added 16 with six assists.
New Mexico out-shot Texas Southern from the field 59.3 percent to 34.7 percent.
''We saw we have a lot of weapons,'' coach Neal said.
The Lobos broke away on a 15-2 run midway through the first half in which Cullen Neal scored five points, and New Mexico never trailed for the remainder.
The bulk of the Lobos' points through the first 20 minutes came in the low post. New Mexico scored 32 points in the paint while limiting Texas Southern to 10 in the first half.
Texas Southern's last led 11-6 with 17 minutes left in the first half. Forward Malcolm Riley paced Texas Southern with 20 points. He fouled out with 3:35 left in the game. Orlando Coleman was the Tigers' leading rebounding with seven.
The Lobos completed 21 of their 29 first-half attempts from the field, but fell to 11 of 25 in the second half. They also committed double the turnovers from the first half to the second (from four to nine), finishing with 13 for the game.
''Now we got a little tired, a little lackadaisical and we had some turnovers late,'' coach Neal said. ''But I thought all in all, we did a nice job.
Texas Southern shot under 35 percent in both halves and committed 19 turnovers, with 11 coming in the second half.
The Tigers did not have a second-half run longer than six points, which happened on the first possessions after halftime and cut the New Mexico lead to 38-22. The Lobos increased that lead back to 52-27.
''We needed that,'' Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. ''It's been hard to coach them in practice and get them going at a certain pace and play together. We needed a team to beat us like that. Now we can come back and let us coach them.''
The Lobos out-rebounded the Tigers 35-24, and held a 17-7 scoring edge off turnovers and a 13-2 advantage on fast breaks.
Both teams have quick turnarounds for their next games. New Mexico travels to play in-state rival New Mexico State on Sunday in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while Texas Southern plays at Creighton Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska.
New Mexico: won its seventh game in eight meetings against Texas Southern, playing for the first time since Nov. 19, 2001. New Mexico won its 13th straight season opener. The Lobos last scored 50 points in a half on Nov. 17, 2013 against Charleston Southern.
Texas Southern: did not play an exhibition game this season, and New Mexico went 2-0 in preseason play.
''I told them at halftime. I thought that was most unselfish I've seen them played, even in practice,'' New Mexico coach Craig Neal said. ''They came out and moved the ball. We did some great things. We didn't turn it over. We spread the floor out. We made good passes.''
Texas Southern plays at Creighton on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska.
New Mexico travels to play in-state rival New Mexico State on Sunday in Las Cruces, New Mexico.