Craig Neal

Hayden Graham, Devon Williams
Associated Press

New Mexico’s Devon Williams leaves game with neck injury

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Sunday night in-state rivals New Mexico and New Mexico State played the first of their two meetings of the season, and while the play of guard Elijah Brown in the Lobos’ 83-74 victory will get headlines there was also a scary situation involving New Mexico redshirt junior forward Devon Williams.

Williams left the game with 11:16 remaining the second half after colliding with teammate Jordan Hunter while going after a loose ball. Williams remained on the Pan-American Center court for several minutes following the collision, with paramedics placing him onto a stretcher.

Williams was taken to a Las Cruces hospital for evaluation of what was described by head coach Craig Neal following the game as a neck injury.

UPDATE: Williams’ mother commented on the status of her son following the game, noting that she had spoken with him.

New Mexico lands three-star wing

Craig Neal
Associated Press
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New Mexico landed its first 2016 commitment Saturday evening, as three-star small forward Damien Jefferson made his verbal pledge to the Mountain West program. Jefferson, a native of East Chicago, Indiana, took his official visit to New Mexico this weekend and the Lobos were considered by many scouts as the favorite to land him.

News of Jefferson’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

Jefferson attends East Chicago Central HS, where as a junior he averaged 23.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest. Jefferson was named to the Indiana boys Junior All-Star team at the end of last season, and he played for the SYF Players grassroots program this summer.

Jefferson’s commitment gets UNM back on the board in the class, as forward Mitch Lightfoot de-committed in mid-April. The Lobos have just two scholarship seniors on their roster for the 2015-16 season (guard Tim Jacobs and center J.J. N’Ganga), and among the wing options Jefferson will join on campus in 2016 are sophomores Xavier Adams and Sam Logwood, and freshman Dane Kuiper.

2016 New Mexico commit Mitch Lightfoot decides to reopen recruitment

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San Diego State wasn’t the only Mountain West program to lose a 2016 commitment on Friday. 6-foot-8 forward Mitch Lightfoot, one of the top players in the southwest, announced his decision to de-commit from New Mexico Friday afternoon by way of his Twitter account. Lightfoot originally committed to New Mexico last September, nearly two full years before he’s due to set foot on a college campus.

With that being the case, a decision to open things up in order to make sure the right choice is made is understandable. In a story written by Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic, Lightfoot’s high school coach stated that the de-commitment does not eliminate New Mexico as a possible destination.

“He was young when he committed,” Gilbert (Arizona) Christian head coach Kurt Keener told Obert. “It’s not like he is eliminating New Mexico. He just wants to explore what is out there.”

Among the other offers Lightfoot had to choose from at the time of his commitment were those from Utah and Arizona State (the ASU offer came from the prior staff, of course). And according to Obert’s report Arizona State, which is now led by Bobby Hurley, has reached out to him in the aftermath of the de-commitment.

Prior to Lightfoot’s decision to reopen his recruitment New Mexico managed to land commitments from two of the top players in Arizona, with incoming freshman Dane Kuiper being the first.

New Mexico point guard to miss remainder of season due to ankle injury

Cullen Neal
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Shortly after New Mexico’s 66-53 win over No. 24 Colorado State on Saturday, the news many expected to hear became official. Sophomore point guard Cullen Neal, who hasn’t played since the Puerto Rico Tipoff in November after injuring his right ankle, will sit out the remainder of the season and apply for a medical redshirt according to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal.

Neal partially tore tendons in his right ankle in the second half of New Mexico’s loss to Boston College on November 20, and his exit from the lineup has led to senior guard Hugh Greenwood moving into the role of primary ball-handler. Prior to the injury Greenwood was expected to spend the majority of his time off the ball for the Lobos, who are currently 10-4 overall and 2-0 in Mountain West play.

Per NCAA rules, had Cullen Neal played after the 15th game of the season, which is Tuesday at San Diego State, he wouldn’t have been able to pursue a medical hardship waiver (the official term for the more commonly used medical redshirt). UNM’s compliance office and the Neal family, including mother Janet and Craig Neal, have met on multiple occasions since the injury to ensure they have all the proper documentation to file for the waiver, though there is no timetable on when the NCAA will actually rule on the request.

Without Neal the Lobos have tightened things up defensively in order to account for the comparative lack of scoring, and the results thus far have been positive. New Mexico has won seven of its last eight games, and Saturday both Sam Logwood (15 points) and Devon Williams (13) scored in double figures.

New Mexico hands No. 24 Colorado State its first defeat in impressive fashion

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While No. 24 Colorado State entered Saturday’s game at New Mexico with an unblemished record of 14-0, the best start in school history, it was clear that Larry Eustachy’s team had some things to clean up. In each of their last two games the Rams got off to slow starts offensively, only to snap out of that funk in wins over New Mexico State and Boise State.

Unfortunately for the Rams they were unable to turn things around in the second half Saturday night, as Craig Neal’s team put together a commanding performance in a 66-53 win that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

How did the Lobos get the job done? By relentlessly attacking the Colorado State defense and working to get to the basket instead of settling for perimeter shots. Of New Mexico’s 66 points 42 were scored in the paint, with Sam Logwood scoring 15 points off the bench, Devon Williams adding 13 and Tim Jacobs accounting for nine points and five rebounds.

Those contributions, ten of the 11 Lobos who saw action managing to score, ensured that New Mexico maintained control of the game despite off shooting nights from leading scorers Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney.

Greenwood scored just four points, shooting 1-for-10 from the field, but he did contribute team highs in both rebounds (eight) and assists (six). Delaney was even quieter offensively, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds. New Mexico shot 51 percent from the field and 59.5% on two-point shots. New Mexico isn’t a particularly good three-point shooting team, especially with Cullen Neal out for the remainder of the season, which makes it imperative that they work to get scoring opportunities around the rim.

New Mexico was greedy when it came to the quality of shots they looked for, and during an 8-0 second-half run that saw them push out their lead to 18 points (55-37) the Lobos repeatedly scored at the rim. By comparison Colorado State spent the majority of its time hoisting up challenged jump shots, which also contributed to New Mexico scoring 17 fast break points.

As a team Colorado State shot 32.7% from the field, with Daniel Bejarano (13 points) making four of his 13 attempts and J.J. Avila scoring just six points on 3-for-10 shooting. Colorado State’s been a good perimeter shooting team this season, but when those shots aren’t falling settling for too many jumpers can be costly.

But even with Colorado State’s shooting issues Saturday night, it was their defense that got them beat in Albuquerque. Even with their 14-0 start the Rams showed that they still have of work to do defensively, as they entered Saturday ranked eighth in the Mountain West in field goal percentage defense and defensive efficiency and ninth in three-point percentage defense.

Prior opponents may have shown that Colorado State needs to get better defensively, but it was New Mexico who managed to hand the Rams a loss while doing so.

New Mexico’s Craig Neal unsure if starting point guard will return this season

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After scoring a total of 49 points in New Mexico’s first two games of the season, sophomore point guard Cullen Neal suffered a severe right ankle sprain in the Lobos’ loss to Boston College in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tipoff. Upon the team’s return from San Juan, it was reported that Neal could miss anywhere from three to five weeks as a result of the injury.

However, according to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico head coach Craig Neal is unsure of when (or if) his starting point guard will return to the lineup. There’s a chance that Neal could miss the remainder of the season as a result of the ankle injury, with the head coach noting that if a decision had to be made at that point in time (this past Thursday), “I don’t think he comes back.”

The elder Neal is looking at this situation from the perspective of a father wanting what’s best for his son as opposed to focusing on how the team would benefit from Cullen’s return to the court. And he wants his son to make the decision that’s best for him, even with the desire to get back onto the court to help his team.

“I’m going to do what’s best for Cullen, not what’s best for my team or what’s best for me,” Craig Neal said, adding that seeking medical hardship waivers is something he would let any player and his family make the call on, regardless of the team’s situation.

“I know he’s feeling a lot of pressure because he thinks he’s got to come back for me as his coach and as his dad, and I think he’s feeling a lot of pressure thinking he’s got to come back for his teammates. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what’s best for him. That’s with all our kids.”

Since going 1-3 during that stretch the Lobos have won three straight games, most recently beating UL-Monroe 54-46 Saturday night. New Mexico’s been hit hard by the injury bug of late, with Arthur Edwards (finger) and Jordan Goodman (concussion) out of the lineup as well.

With that being the case the Lobos have stepped up on the defensive end of the floor, with none of their last three opponents shooting better than 35 percent from the field. In wins over New Mexico State, Valparaiso and UL Monroe, New Mexico allowed an average of 46.3 points per game.