Can UTEP Snap NMSU’s Eight-Game Win Streak over the Miners on Wednesday?
It's time for the Miners (2-3) to tango for the second time this season against their rivals New Mexico State (3-1) on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Don Haskins Center.
But oh what a lopsided battle this has been for the past four seasons.
The Aggies are riding an eight-game win streak over the Miners, including their 96-69 win earlier this year in Las Cruces. UTEP's last victory over the bunch came four years ago where they beat NMSU 77-76 on Nov. 22, 2014.
“You can throw the records out and you’re going to get each other’s best game,” first-year head coach Rodney Terry said. “We understand what’s on the line in terms of the rivalry. I think it’s great that we have that kind of out-of-conference opponent early in the year where it means something on both ends. We’re going to compete as hard as we can.”
The good news for the Miners, though, is their young core is growing in experience and starting to make noise on the floor.
UTEP's coming off a loss to New Mexico (84-78) at the Pit, where they went into the half with a five-point lead and shot exceptionally well from beyond the arc. The Lobos caught fire in the second half, hitting 8-of-11 3-pointers to rally and beat out the Miners.
Sophomore guard Evan Gilyard earned a C-USA Player of the Week honor after scoring 22 points against the Lobos, while freshman forward Efe Odigie was named C-USA Freshman of the Week for his 11 points and nine rebound performance against UNM.
"We've got a high ceiling with this group," Terry said. "We have a huge growth curve with this group. But they're getting better, buying into some things a bit, especially defensively. They just have to follow the blueprint."
Where UTEP ranks in C-USA/nationally
Gilyard is currently averaging 20.8 points per game, which puts him as No. 3 in C-USA for scoring and 43rd nationally. Odigie is currently leading the league, 23rd nationally, with 10.2 rebounds per game.
As a team, the Miners rank second in the league for three-point shooting percentage (.376) and fifth in defensive rebounds per game (27.6). However, they are currently last in the conference for free throw percentage (.595) and turnover margin (-6).
Their 69.8 points per game puts them eighth in the conference, while their 76.2 points allowed per game puts them at 10th.
Due to their limited bench rotation, UTEP has three players in the top-15 of the conference in minutes per game, with Gilyard at No. 2 (37.2), sophomore guard Kobe Magee at 11th (32.2) and freshman guard Jordan Lathon at 13th (31.6).
"We pride ourselves in being one of the best conditioned teams in the country," Terry said. "We did a lot of running at the start of the year and even into the start of the season. With the short bench we have, we have to be smart how we rest our guys."
The Aggies enter Wednesday's matchup winning three of their last four games. After beating the Miners in early November, they were handed their first loss to Saint Mary's (Calif.), 73-58. They bounced back with wins over New Mexico (98-94) and Eastern New Mexico (92-65)
They are led by guards AJ Harris and Terrell Brown, who are averaging 14.8 and 12.8 points per game, respectively. The Aggies recently added back sophomore forward Johnny McCants, who had five points, three blocks and two rebounds against ENMU in his return to the team.
The Aggies lead the all-time series 113-103 against the Miners.
“We have a lot of respect for [NM State’s] program and what they’ve been able to do,” Terry said. “They have good players who put a lot of pressure on you defensively. In transition, they put a lot of pressure on you in terms of scoring early. You need to stop the ball with [A.J.] Harris and do a great job with him defensively. He can score for himself and he can also find guys that can score as well. Pick-and-roll defense is really big for us. We have to do a good job with our coverage. And the rebounding battle will be huge, we know they did a nice job rebounding against us [in Las Cruces]. They’re a good team and a great challenge for us in nonconference play.”
Five ways the Miners steal a win Wednesday:
- Limit turnovers:UTEP is the worst team in the conference and among the worst in the nation (341/344) for their -6 turnover margin. If they can create turnovers defensively and minimize mistakes offensively, they will have a shot.
- Thomas must out-play McCants:Historically, McCants has gotten the edge over UTEP during their previous matchups. If Paul Thomas can shut him down and not foul out (which he's done in UTEP's first five games), UTEP can take McCants out of the game and not allow him to be a problem for the Miners.
- Shoot above 40 percent beyond the arc:In UTEP's two best played games this season (UTPB and UNM) the Miners shot above 40 percent beyond the arc, which helped them immensely down the stretch in both games. Gilyard is shooting lights out from 3-point range (.500), while Magee (.417) and Thomas (.400) have done their due diligence from 3-point land. The two most important 3-point shooters on Wednesday will be Lathon and Nigel Hawkins. Hawkins is yet to make a shot beyond the arc this season (0-for-7), while Lathon has been inconsistent (3-for-13). If those two can turn up their 3-game, the Miners will get some big numbers from the two freshmen guards.
- Play strong second half minutes:In the last meeting between the Aggies and Miners, UTEP hung around in the first half, trailing 43-39 at the half, but NMSU blew them out in the second, out-scoring UTEP 53-30. UTEP must eliminate costly fouls in the first half so their role players can play out minutes in the second half.
- Mix up rotations to surprise the Aggies:Whether it be football, baseball or in this case, basketball, it's hard to beat a team twice in one season. NMSU's done it to UTEP for the last four seasons. What does Terry have to lose in this one? Not much. It's time to take risks on Wednesday. Maybe start Odigie and freshman forward Kaosi Ezeagu to start the game and sub Thomas in to give him some time to evaluate the play on the floor and read the Aggies. Maybe go small rotations with Odigie, Lathon, Hawkins, Magee and Gilyard to push the pace on the Aggies offensively. Or, Terry could even go big by putting Odigie, Ezeagu, Thomas, Hawkins and Gilyard on the floor to try and out-physical the Aggies. Who knows, but there's nothing to lose.
Tip-off against the Aggies is set for 7 p.m. in the Haskins Center.