As you might expect, Richard Pitino was ecstatic following New Mexico’s impressive 84-63 road win Tuesday night at SMU.
But as soon as the team plane touched down in Albuquerque late last night, he made sure the players understood it would soon be time to turn their complete attention to Rio Grande rival New Mexico State.
The Lobos and Aggies clash Saturday night at the Pit (5 p.m. tip, Mountain West Network) in front of what is expected to be a loud and raucous crowd of mostly cherry and silver clad supporters.
“The key is staying humble, regroup and have two great days of practice leading up to New Mexico State,” Pitino told the Lobo Radio Network in his post-game interview. “We’ll feel good about it tonight, get back to Albuquerque, get some rest and regroup.”
Pitino has emphasized keeping an even keel to his team since preseason camp began in late September.
“I keep trying to tell them not to get too high or too low,” Pitino said. “We were a little emotional last year. We just have to execute and move on, execute and move on. We did that.”
His comments came minutes after the Lobos put the finish touches on arguably the most impressive performance of the Pitino Era. The Lobos performed at a high level on both ends of the floor in stomping SMU before their stunned home fans at Moody Coliseum.
The Lobos (3-0) took control of the game early and powered past the Mustangs for their largest margin road win over a Division I opponent in five years. The 21-point margin is the Lobos’ largest in a road game against a Division I opponent since a 108-87 win at Colorado State in 2018.
“Our guys executed well,” Pitino said. “We were scrappy, we stuck to the game plan. We continue to not turn the ball over. That’s huge. And we’re defending without fouling. It was another game where we were in the bonus and they weren’t. It was a terrific road win. I’m proud of our guys.”
Defensively, the Lobos limited SMU to less than 36 percent shooting, forced 15 turnovers, had 9 steals, blocked 6 shots, dominated the defensive glass (33 DR-11 OR) and had nearly as many made free throws (17) as free throw attempted by SMU (19).
“I thought that was one of our best defensive game since I’ve been here,” Pitino said. “We were rock solid. We were aggressive and disruptive on the ball. We were good in transition. SMU wats to play fast and they’re a good team. Credit to our coaching staff for getting our guys prepared. They did a great job on the scout and the players listened.”
Freshman point guard Donovan Dent, the 2022 Mr. Basketball in California, sparked a Lobos offense which had four scorers in double figures by distributing the ball well enough to record 7 assists.
“Donovan Dent is a terrific passer,” Pitino said. “He needs to play with a little more pace when he goes by guys. But he can see some things that other guys can’t.”
The quartet of guards Jaelen House (18 points) and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (16) and forwards Josiah Allick (18) and Morris Udeze (15) combined for 67 points and 23 rebounds. House and Udeze were both plus-26 in the +/- ratings.
Mashburn scored in double figures for the 24th consecutive game, the longest active streak in the Mountain West.
“Jaelen House continues to get assists and Mashburn was rock solid when he needed to make mid-range shots,” Pitino said. “We stayed the course. We’ve shown really good maturity over the last two games.”
The 21-pont road win at SMU grabbed the attention of the national media. College basketball reporters Jon Rothstein and Doug Gottlieb both tweeted about the UNM win and how much improved the Lobos look this season after just three games.
“Richard Pitino has answers. Lobos could push for one of the top spots in the Mountain West,” Rothstein tweeted.
“Richard Pitino still has that son of Star backcourt with Jamal Mashburn and Jalen House getting buckets, but it feels like they have way more help this year,” Gottlieb said.
In short, their supporting cast is a lot better than last season. It shows in the record as UNM improved to 3-0 with three victories over Division I opponents for the first time since 2016-17.
“Recruiting helps,:” Pitino said. “It’s everything. Our staff has done a really good job of getting some good core guys and then seeing what we have. We addressed some needs. But not only are the new guys good players, but they have great substance as well. They are guys you should be proud to root for.”