Charleston Southern will not play many teams this season more well-rounded and talented than the No. 22-ranked New Mexico Lobos.
The Lobos used a big size advantage inside and excellent perimeter shooting to dispatch the Buccaneers, 109-93, on Sunday afternoon at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. It was the first of two straight games against ranked opponents as the Bucs (2-2) play at Baylor (3-0) on Wednesday.
Senior forward Cameron Bairstow led all scorers with 29 points, while 7-0 center Alex Kirk added 24 points and 13 rebounds for the Lobos.
New Mexico shot 59.6 percent from the floor for the game and made 32 of 43 free throws, including an 18-of-20 effort from the stripe in the second half.
Junior point guard Saah Nimley led CSU’s effort with 24 points and tied a career-high with 12 assists. Junior forward Paul Gombwer scored a career-high 17 points, while senior guard Sheldon Strickland added 17 points, including five 3-pointers. Junior Arlon Harper finished the night with 15 points.
CSU had a solid second half from the floor, shooting 57 percent and made 11 of their season-high 15 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes. The Bucs also had their best day at the free throw line, converting 22 of 24 attempts.
“They are certainly deserving of their national ranking, probably a top 15 team in the country,” said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. “They are a big, tough, skilled basketball team. I thought we did some good things, and I thought our guys really competed for 40 minutes in a tough environment against a very good team. I really believe this game will help us in the long run.”
Charleston Southern led twice, the last time coming with 12:12 remaining in the first half when Harper’s steal and dunk gave the Bucs a 21-19 lead. New Mexico then went on an 18-5 run over the next nine minutes to take a 49-32 lead and led comfortably at the half, 52-36.
Charleston Southern got a pair of 3-pointers from Strickland and trailed 60-45 with 16:55 remaining in the game. However, the Lobos again went on an impressive 16-0 run to open up an 82-51 lead with 12:30 left in the contest.
Charleston Southern battled hard down the stretch, trimming the lead to 17 at 94-77 with 5:25 remaining and Strickland’s fifth 3-pointer with a minute left provided the final margin.