NEW YORK — Coach Paul Weir is cognizant of the differences between Power 5 programs and the resources he has available at New Mexico.
That does not mean he believes his team cannot compete with those monoliths. Quite the contrary.
“Us non-Power 5s kind of take on a David vs. Goliath,” Weir said after his New Mexico Lobos topped Wisconsin 59-50 in the consolation game of the Legends Classic on Tuesday night.
“We’re blessed,” Weir said. “We’re very thankful for the things that we do have.”
The Lobos earned a split of their two-game swing through Barclays Center, beating Wisconsin 59-50 and managing a 2-2 record in what amounts to their most challenging nonconference test of the season, which started last week with a loss at UTEP and one-point win at New Mexico State.
Against Wisconsin, what New Mexico (6-2) had was balanced scoring as guard JaQuan Lyle, who battled an upset stomach and was held to two points in Monday’s loss to nationally ranked Auburn, was one of four Lobos to score in double figures. He led New Mexico with 14 points with a game-high nine rebounds and just one turnover in 37 minutes.
Carlton Bragg, JJ Caldwell and Zane Martin scored 12 points each. Caldwell and Martin combined to hit four straight free throws 18 seconds apart in the final minute to ice it.
Those two also played a combined 56 minutes as Lobos swing man Makuach Maluach was rendered largely ineffective after spending most of Monday night and Tuesday morning finishing a final exam in his marketing class. He played just 16 minutes and finished with two points after leading the team in scoring the night before.
“The guys battled,” Weir said. “And were terrific.”
On the other side of the coin was Wisconsin (4-3), which leaves Brooklyn having lost two straight and now owns the worst overall record in the Big Ten. Nate Reuvers led all scorers with 16 points before fouling out at the 2:23 mark on a charging call. D’Mitrik Trice finished with 11.
Trice hit a driving layup with 52 seconds remaining to get the Badgers within 54-50. Caldwell started a 5-0 run to end the game for the Lobos by hitting a pair of free throws nine seconds later.
“You’ve got to be able to score,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.
The third all-time meeting between the Big Ten and Mountain West programs was a stylistic matchup with New Mexico’s up-tempo attack against Wisconsin’s deliberate, half-court approach.
Similar to its 62-52 loss to Richmond on Monday, Wisconsin was able to slow the pace significantly. Lanes were clogged, room on the perimeter for ball-handlers to drive or shoot was at a premium and shots were contested as if these were two longtime rivals who knew what the other wanted to do.
That style played well with Weir, whose team committed 24 turnovers against Auburn but had just 13 on Tuesday.
“Wisconsin just gets back, plays defense, they’re going to give you much in transition anyways,” Weir said. “I think that helped settle us.”
New Mexico shot 44 percent from the field but was only 3-for-13 from distance. The Badgers, like what most UNM opponents have done to date, got plenty of looks from 3-point territory but were woeful from that range, shooting just 7.7 percent (2 of 26).
“I liked what we’re doing defensively,” Gard said. “And we can always get better. That’s given us a chance in both these games, and if we can better take care of the ball and knock down some more shots, we’ll be better positioned.”
New Mexico’s defense was outstanding, holding Wisconsin to 25 points through the first 27 minutes. The Badgers trailed by 11 with 13 minutes remaining but used a 14-6 run to get within a single possession. They never did tie it or take the lead.
“They’re a great team, they’re obviously a Big Ten Power 5 team,” Weir said. “I mean, it’s hard to put a team like that away.”
The confounding play of Lobos swing man Vance Jackson continues. He made a first-half 3-pointer in Tuesday’s game but missed all four of his other shots. He’s converting only 31 percent of his attempts and is 8-for-31 from 3-point range. He has been in the starting lineup and played at least 20 minutes every game, but his scoring is roughly half of last year’s total (13.1 down to 6.6), as is his rebounding (7 down to 4) and shooting percentage. … The Lobos return home to face Montana on Sunday afternoon. They’ll play eight of their next 10 games in The Pit, including the Mountain West opener on Dec. 4 against Boise State.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.