Five Takeaways From UTEP’s Win Over New Mexico
As much fun as last week's 15-point win over NMSU was for Miners fans, last night's 66-63 UTEP win over longtime rival New Mexico was on a different level. This battle was hotly contested throughout, but the 2019-20 Miners team is learning how to win close games in the final minute. Here are my five biggest observations from the Miners win over the Lobos.
1. Daryl Edwards is the missing link. When head coach Rodney Terry announced that the former LSU guard and Fresno native had chosen UTEP, few people knew what to expect. After all, despite starting in 16 games for the Tigers as a junior in 2017-18, he averaged just 6.8 points. However, Edwards has brought veteran leadership to the guard position, something that the Miners lacked heading into the 2019-20 season. He also has a nice perimeter game and can finish under the basket when he drives to the hole. Last night, he dropped 18 points in 37 minutes to lead UTEP in scoring, while adding four assists and three steals.
2. Jordan Lathon is not afraid of the big moment. Despite not scoring in the first half and playing only six minutes because of early foul trouble, the Miners' sophomore point guard turned it on in the final twenty minutes and finished with 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting. He also hit the game winning basket with 27 seconds left and UTEP down by a point. Lathon has a ton of confidence and has shown the ability to want the basketball with the game on the line. This is a huge characteristic trait for the sophomore and he will continue to grow into the point guard position for the Miners along with redshirt sophomore Souley Boum. It's also a vast difference from UTEP teams over the last five years who lacked a true leader and a player to want to take the big shot in the final seconds.
3. UTEP beats another quality opponent without playing their best basketball. The New Mexico Lobos are a better basketball team at this point than the NMSU Aggies. Unlike Chris Jans' team, head coach Paul Weir has a healthy club filled with big time Division 1 transfers. Like UTEP they have great size and athletic ability, a big reason why they were picked to finish third in the Mountain West. The Lobos are also receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. The Miners played terrific defense on UNM for most of the night, and they held them to 30 points under their season average. However, it still seems like UTEP is just scratching the surface on their potential which is scary. Last night's win will help the Miners Strength of Schedule and their NET rankings when they are first released later this season.
4. The officiating crew was horrible and the Miners were like a road team on their home court. Last night, umpire Michael Greenstein was especially bad. The San Diego-based veteran official was mostly on the sideline and he seemed to blow his whistle about 80-percent of the time against UTEP, despite having the worst look at each foul he would call. As a result, the Lobos were able get to the foul line 31 times compared to just 13 for the Miners. Referee Kelly Self and umpire Ross Cullins Jr. also had some rough moments, but Greenstein and his whistle stole the show. Over the years, Greenstein has worked NCAA Basketball Tournament Regionals, and he is currently part of two officiating consortiums. The Western Officiating Consortium (WOC) involves the Mountain West, Pac-12, WCC, WAC, Big West, and Big Sky and is led by longtime El Pasoan and former referee Bobby Dibler. The other known as the Men's Basketball Officiating Consortium includes Ohio Valley, Big 12, Southland, Missouri Valley, and C-USA and is headed up by Curtis Shaw. Last night's C-USA crew was assigned by Shaw. Hopefully UTEP fans will not have to see Greenstein work another game again at the Don Haskins Center this season.
5. The crowd was loud throughout the game and a major factor. Before last night's game tipped off, I predicted on SportsTalk that 6,000 fans would be attending the game against the Lobos. The announced crowd of 6,171 was nearly 3,000 fewer than the NMSU game one week before. There are plenty of reasons why this game did not sell as well as the Aggies, including a high average ticket price, lesser marketing push, and fans not connecting with the Lobos rivalry like in years past. Despite the low turnout, the fans at the game were loud and engaged throughout. In fact, it sounded like a packed house and the crowd was a big reason why the Miners were able to escape with the three point win.