Mercer-New Mexico Preview
New Mexico is back in the national rankings thanks to its best start in three seasons and a high-profile victory last week.
The No. 25 Lobos, though, are not content with their recent performances and will try for a better one when they host Mercer on Wednesday night.
New Mexico (6-0) garnered attention for its 66-60 win in the Paradise Jam championship over then-No. 21 Connecticut on Nov. 19. The Lobos defeated Idaho and Portland following their return to the states but their continued shooting struggles dulled the shine off one of those victories.
New Mexico has connected on less than 41.0 percent of its attempts in four of its six games but has stayed unbeaten by allowing an average of 63.5 points and 39.3 percent shooting.
In Sunday's 69-54 win over Portland, the Lobos limited the Pilots to 32.1 percent shooting and 1 of 10 from beyond the arc, but they weren't much better, shooting 33.3 percent and going 2 of 19 from 3-point range.
Coach Steve Alford said lingering fatigue from the trip to the Virgin Islands might have played a role in that performance. It also didn't help that leading scorer Kendall Williams (14.7 points per game) was forced to come off the bench after he and Demetrius Walker were late to a recent team meeting.
Williams had a season-low nine points while Alex Kirk had his second career double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) to help the Lobos, who ended last season at No. 21, move closer to matching their 12-0 start from 2009-10.
"It's early. Coach always says that the sky is the limit and we have a ton of potential and head room to keep improving every single game. That is what we're going to keep doing," Kirk said. "We just have to keep getting better and (a 40-minute performance) will come."
New Mexico will try for a more complete effort against a team it had a chance to see at the Paradise Jam.
Mercer (3-3) lost all three of its games in the Virgin Islands but suffered two of those defeats - to George Mason and Wake Forest - by three points apiece. The Bears blew out Furman 73-46 in their first game back home Sunday.
The decisive result allowed Mercer to go easy on the minutes. No one played more than 24 and the Bears got 14 players in the game.
Junior center Monty Brown had a career-high 14 points off the bench and leading scorer Travis Smith (11.0 ppg), a senior guard, had 10. The Bears' starting point guard, Langston Hall, had eight points and seven assists in his season debut after missing the first five games with an ankle injury.
Hall averaged team highs of 11.4 points and 4.2 assists in 2011-12.
New Mexico has won each of the previous two matchups with Mercer, with the last meeting in 2000.