Young Lobos handle workload in somewhat sloppy exhibition game victory

Oct. 26—When he’s not on the team bench in street clothes, the Pit will still be Jaelen’s House.

Mashburn will again be a monster in the midrange.

And whenever Nelly Junior Joseph gets a chance to unpack his suitcase after arriving in the country Tuesday, he’ll shine as the Lobos center.

But if UNM’s 83-65 exhibition game win over Division II CSU-Pueblo on Thursday night showed fans anything of significance about what will be one of the most experienced rosters in the country this season, it was that the Lobos’ future, and perhaps its bench of the present, is in pretty good hands in sophomore point guard Donovan Dent and freshmen JT Toppin and Tru Washington.

“I’ve said from day one when we recruited Donnie, ‘That’s going to be the dude that’s going to help us win some championships,'” third-year Lobos coach Richard Pitino said. “Now, this (rebuilding) process has been sped up probably a little bit more than I thought it would early in it, but we loved what we got in him. He’s a terrific player.”

Dent, the 6-foot-2 sophomore, started in place place of preseason All-Mountain West point guard Jaelen House, who missed Thursday’s game with a leg injury that likely wouldn’t have kept him out of action if this were a regular season game. Dent scored a game-high 26 points — the most for a Lobo in an exhibition game since Cullen Neal scored that much, also against CSU-Pueblo, in 2015.

But as impressive as Dent’s offense was — a night that included a game-high 6 assists and drawing seven of the 19 fouls the Thunderwolves were called for — it was his role as a defensive pest that may have stole the show.

“Coach P really harped that to me a lot during the summer,” Dent said about his defense. “… I’ve gotta be better on the ball. I thought I got blown by a couple times that can really happen against a team like this. I’ve got to keep my man in front of me.”

Dent finished with 3 steals and 3 blocked shots.

Toppin, the 6-foot-9 freshman from Dallas, scored 12 of his 16 points and swatted 3 of his game-high 4 blocked shots in the first half (UNM had 13 blocked shots as a team). Toppin’s first flurry after checking in with 15:46 showing on the clock included 6 points, 3 offensive rebounds and two blocked shots in 7 minutes, 54 seconds.

Washington, the 6-foot-4 4-star guard from Phoenix, did his work in the second half, scoring 9 of his 11 points and finishing with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, not to mention at least 4 deflections that were near steals — each revving up the appreciative announced crowd of 9,290.

A sloppy first half for the Lobos resulted in a modest 38-32 lead at halftime, but UNMM came out strong in the second half en route to a comfortable 13-point advantage by the first media timeout in the second half. The team led by as many as 19, all while the Lobos played all 12 available players, most of whom have had little time on the court together.

Mashburn’s 18 points rounded out a four-players-in-double-figures night for UNM, which shot 47.6% from the floor and outrebounded CSUP 46-35. The Thunderwolves, led by13 points from guard Daeyon James, shot 32.3% from the floor.

JUST OFF THE PLANE: Junior Joseph, the 6-10 Iona transfer who arrived in Albuquerque from Nigeria on Tuesday, played 16 minutes, 30 seconds and had seven rebounds and two blocked shots. He also was 0-for-1 shooting and committed four fouls.

Pitino said he had just four plays he knew for this first game, “but he did them all right.”

ON THE BENCH: House was on the bench Thursday night with what the team is calling a “lower body injury.” While he’s been held out of much of the intense practices so far in the preseason, Pitino said this is mostly an “overly cautious” approach with House, who likely would be playing if this were a regular season game.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi transfer Isaac Mushila also missed Thursday’s exhibition game. The 6-foot-5 forward broke his left hand earlier this month in practice. His cast was removed earlier last week and the Lobos are optimistic he could play as soon as the first week of the regular season, which begins Nov. 6.

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