By Kenn Rodriguez: FNM correspondent
ALBUQUERQUE — In its second straight exhibition game against a Division I opponent, Eastern New Mexico started out strong but faded late to fall to the New Mexico Lobos 80-58 at the newly renovated University Arena Wednesday night.
Junior guard Stefan Mirabal enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, hitting 5 three-pointers and scoring a game-high 19 points.
“He just shot the ball and was playing with a lot of confidence,” Eastern head coach Andrew Helton said of the Sandia High graduate. “It was great to see.”
Forward Aaron Edwards added 10 points for the Greyhounds, who raced out to a 12-point first half lead before the Lobos began pounding the ball inside and outmaneuvering ENMU on defense.
“We played them well for a while but then wore down in the second half,” Helton said. “In both our games so far we’ve played a good 30 minutes. We’ve got to put together 40 minutes.”
Texas El-Paso rallied to beat the Hounds 80-76 Saturday.
Redshirt sophomore Curtis Dennis led the Lobos with 17 points while senior guard Dairese Gary added 16. ENMU battled New Mexico fairly even on the boards (42 to 37 Lobos), but were hurt by 15 turnovers and committed 24 personal fouls to the Lobos 12.
Senior Tyler Jefferson, who was able to slow UNM’s big men in the lane, fouled out with a little over six minutes left in the game and in the middle of New Mexico’s 25-6 game-ending run.
“That hurt us a lot,” Helton said. “That’s one position we’re not so deep at and losing Tyler’s senior leadership at the point was tough.”
Eastern New Mexico came out quick.
After a lay-in by Lobo forward Phillip McDonald, the Greyhounds went on a 14-2 run keyed by Mirabal, who hit a trio of 3-pointers, and Jefferson, who added six points during the run.
With the Greyhounds’ man-to-man defense doing the job on the rattled, cold-shooting Lobos, ENMU’s lead grew to 18-6 by the 12:03 mark of the first half before New Mexico calmed down and begin to work the ball inside.
At the same time Eastern’s shooters cooled down. After shooting 8-of-14 in the first five minutes of the game, the Greyhounds would shoot just 4-of-15 the rest of the half.
For the game, ENMU finished shooting 36 percent compared to UNM’s 48 percent.
In the second half, the Greyhounds fell further behind, trailing 44-31 after three minutes, but responded with a 10-2 run and pulled to 55-52 on a put back by junior Max Carrier with just over 10 minutes left in the game. But Gary came back down and drained a 3-pointer to ignite an 18-0 New Mexico run that ended ENMU’s chances.
Helton said he is seeing a lot of things he likes about his team in the exhibition season.
“I’m liking our resilience,” he said. “We were down 16 at UTEP with five minutes and came back. Tonight we struggled in the last ten minutes. But I like that we’re an unselfish team.”