Kirk records double-double as No. 19 New Mexico beats Davidson
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP)
No. 19 New Mexico can count on its four veterans to lead the way.
The starters back from last year's Mountain West champions combined for 55 points to help the Lobos bounce back from the season's first loss. They beat Davidson 79-58 to take third place at the Charleston Classic on Sunday.
Cameron Bairstow scored 18 points, and Alex Kirk had his fifth double-double in as many games with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Kendall Williams scored 12 points, while backcourt mate Hugh Greenwood added nine points and 10 rebounds for New Mexico (4-1).
''I know what I'm going to get out of my four guys,'' said first-year coach Craig Neal. ''I was hoping and praying that we'd bounce back and I thought we did. But it was because of our leadership, because of our four major guys that have come back.''
Brian Sullivan had 17 points and four 3-pointers for Davidson, which played without injured top scorer De'Mon Brooks.
The Lobos aren't happy with their tournament results - ''We came here to win,'' Neal said. But they believe they've made progress at blending in new players in the rotation.
''It's not frustrating, but sometimes you're like, `All right, let's move on,''' Kirk said of the mistakes that come early on in team building. ''They're learning and they're getting better each day. And that's all the emphasis we're putting on them.''
There's evidence the growing pains are easing.
Sophomore Cleveland Thomas had the go-ahead 3-pointer Thursday in New Mexico's wild 97-94 double-overtime win against UAB. Freshman Cullen Neal, the coach's son, had 15 points and three 3-pointers against Davidson.
''Us, the older guys, we do like to see that,'' Kirk said.
The Lobos (4-1) had hoped to be playing in the eight-team tournament's title game, but fell to Massachusetts 81-65 on Friday. The 7-foot Kirk took full advantage of Davidson's size disadvantage and largely had his way inside. It was the junior's 15th career game with double figures in points and rebounds. Kirk also had three blocks.
Davidson tried to negate New Mexico's edge in height with some long-distance shooting, attempting 20 3-pointers in the opening half. But the strategy came up short as the Wildcats fell to 1-5 for the second time in five years.
Davidson coach Bob McKillop had led the school to seven NCAA tournaments in 25 years, including the past two seasons as Southern Conference champions. He says the Wildcats won't wallow in their rough start.
''I know darn well that they're down,'' he said of his players. ''They don't accept losing. They're not going to rationalize it. They're going to say, `I have to improve this. I have to improve that.' And they'll work at it.''
Davidson entered with a well-earned reputation as a slayer of college basketball giants. This group has so far struggled against the big boys with its losses to Duke, Virginia, Clemson and New Mexico. The Wildcats have North Carolina and Wichita State ahead next month before league play starts in January.
Brooks, the preseason Southern Conference player of the year, wore his warm-up suit and used crutches to get on and off the court Sunday, holding his right leg up off the ground as he walked.
There was no official word about the extent of Brooks' injury, and McKillop didn't know how long he might be out. The Wildcats don't play again until Nov. 30 at Stetson.
Without Brooks, who was hurt Friday, Davidson had little chance of hanging down low with Kirk, Bairstow and the taller, physical Lobos.
Kirk had nine of his team's first 13 points. The Wildcats tightened up around the 7-footer after that, running two or three players at him each time he caught the ball. That opened space for Bairstow.