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.