Five Initial Reactions from UTEP Men’s Basketball’s First Game
Now that the men's basketball season has officially kicked off and the team has a win under their belt, it's time to dial back down what we saw last night in the Miners' 90-63 win over UT Permian Basin.
Intensity is the highest it's been in years
From the get-go, this young team brought to the table a newfound level of intensity. They came out in a man-to-man defense and guarded each man to their face. Their offense, although sloppy at times, moved the ball quickly, pinging it around the perimeter and gave a hungry, yet patient approach to scoring.
For example, when freshman forward Kaosi Ezeagu was subbed in the game early on for freshman Efe Odigie, he was ready to get after it. On his offensive possession of the game, Ezeagu was fed the ball down low, bodied a defender and missed a close-range shot. Then, the Falcons pushed the pace quick offensively, to which Ezeagu had a monster block and got the ball back for the Miners.
The hustle was impeccable.
Although they totaled 15 turnovers on the night, this team is really fun to watch. Their youth makes it exciting for the future. Their talent level is higher than last year. And the players even looked more prepared, which Paul Thomas and Evan Gilyard alluded to in their postgame press conference.
"Definitely we know what we're doing this year," Thomas said. "We have a great coach in coach Terry he gets us right on all cylinders, defensively and offensively. A lot more ball movement. A lot more commradre with the team and that's the biggest difference."
"I feel like they [the coaching staff] are giving us a lot more confidence, especially playing on defense," Gilyard said. "They're basing it off defense, more than last year. In practice we're going hard, we're engaging with each other and talk off and on the court. That's real key for a team."
"I just feel like we're playing hard," Gilyard continued. "We're playing way harder than last year. We're giving more effort than last year. We want to change the basketball history. We want to become better in a new era."
UTEP will attempt lots and lots of 3's this year
The biggest difference right off the bat offensively for the Miners is the amount of uncontested 3's they took last night. UTEP adapted to the college basketball trends by playing the percentages and it ended up working in the second half.
It was a tale of two halves for the Miners in terms of 3-pointers. They shot an inconsistent 33 percent (4-for-12) in the first half, but kept at it in the second, shooting an impressive 63 percent (7-of-11) from beyond the arc. They finished the night hitting 11-of-23 attempts.
Gilyard led the way, making 6-of-9 3-pointers, followed by Thomas (2-of-3) and Giles Dekoninick (2-of-4). Freshman Jordan Lathon struggled from 3-point range, going 0-for-4 on the night.
Last night showed that the Miners will fight for 3-pointers and continue to push shots beyond the perimeter.
Defense is their strong point
During his inaugural press conference, Terry spoke about how he wanted this program to be known for its defense.
Defensively, the Miners went after it against the Falcons. Despite the close score in the first half (38-35), UTEP held their own in a man-to-man front.
They held UTPB to shooting 31 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range in the first, but stomped the Falcons in the second, holding them to 29 percent FG and 14 percent from beyond the arc. They caused 13 turnovers and totaled six blocks, with Ezeagu and Lathon each having a pair of blocks.
Gilyard, who often looked lost on defense last year, took a big step forward defensively this year, which will allow him to be on the floor for extended minutes.
Any foul trouble could be their Achilles heel
With already a thin lineup, the Miners faced foul trouble in the second half when Thomas had four fouls under his belt and Efe Odigie had three. Both Thomas and Odigie would end up fouling out when the Miners had complete control of the game.
If the Miners are in a tight game, however, they can't afford two of their three big men to foul out of any games.
“Paul is our most experienced guy that we have playing for us this year,” Terry said. “We need him on the floor defensively and offensively, and he’s got to learn how to play and stay out of foul trouble. We need him out on floor and we need his leadership.”
Teams will attack their tight, seven-man rotation lineup and try to get UTEP in foul trouble early on. Guys like Magee, Gilyard and Lathon played over 37 minutes, which they will probably be required to do each night.
On the bright side, the Miners got to show off sophomore forward Gilles Dekoninck, a transfer from Fresno State that appeared in seven games last year for Terry. He came off the bench and scored 14 points in 29 minutes, including three boards and three assists.
Score by committee is in full effect
Terry's notion of this team having multiple scorers was true last night, as five Miners scored in double figures.
Gilyard led the way with 24 points, while Odigie had 23 and nine boards of his own, followed by Dekoninck (14), Thomas (10) and Ezeagu (10).
Bottom line is it could be anyone on any given night that has a big night for the Miners. While Magee and Lathon didn't have big-time scoring numbers, Magee tied a team-high for assists (5) and Lathon had the most rebounds on the team (10). Each player will be utilized in various ways through different games.
"The hardest teams to guard are those that have multiple shooters," Terry said. "Those are the teams I like to coach."
Next up, the Miners will square off against NMSU in Las Cruces on Friday, Nov. 9.
“I have a lot of respect for their program and respect for their coach,” Terry said. “He gets those guys to play hard, play the right way; they play like junkyard dogs and they’re tough. We’re going to get out there and match their energy and compete at a very high level. We’re excited about the opportunity for us to try to continue to get better against a program that has been established and has had an opportunity to be in postseason play, which we’re striving to get to.”