Miners Road Difficulties Still Evident in C-USA Opener Loss
Earlier this week, UTEP head coach Rodney Terry talked about how this group learned from their Hawaii stretch and how they still felt confident in their chances of winning the conference.
UTEP started the season 8-1 before the road stretch to Houston and Hawaii, and finished the month of December 9-4, having lost to Houston, Hawaii and Boise State.
On an odd Thursday afternoon, the Miners fell in their C-USA road opener against Florida International, 69-67, leaving us as puzzled as before. UTEP (9-5, 0-1 C-USA) has now lost four of their last five games—all away from the Haskins Center—and will face Florida Atlantic on Saturday afternoon.
Terry was not present for the road game, as he was hospitalized due to an allergic reaction he suffered, per the broadcast. Assistant coach Kenton Paulino coached the game for the Miners, who informed the broadcast after the game that coach Terry is doing better and looks to rejoin the team on this road swing.
During this stretch, UTEP has desperately tried to get positive frontcourt production but has trouble relying on guys like Eric Vila, Efe Odigie and Tydus Verhoeven. In his first start in the frontcourt, Tarke had eight rebounds, two steals, two points (1-of-7) and five turnovers.
Today was the first day seeing the offense work without Lathon and it was more of a point guard by committee. Hawkins started at the point guard spot and finished with nine points, four assists and two turnovers. Daryl Edwards and Souley Boum also helped to run the point guard spot.
Four things have really hurt UTEP during this stretch: rebounds, turnovers, finding a secondary scorer and rotation.
Rebounding: Maybe the one positive of this road swing—UTEP won the rebounding margin against FIU, 43-37. That was one of the biggest things the Miners struggled with previously but the backcourt snagged 16 rebounds to help UTEP against FIU. Tarke led the Miners with eight rebounds and although he didn't have his best offensive game, he really helped off the glass. If UTEP can win the rebound margin against FAU on Saturday, that is one positive going into next week.
Turnovers: The turnovers continue to be an area of concern for this Miners team. They totaled 13 turnovers in the first half, including nine in the game's first 8:30. Not to mention, UTEP turns it over seemingly at the worst times imaginable. On UTEP's final possession with 12 seconds left (69-66), Eric Vila's pass was intercepted and allowed FIU to hang on to win, 69-67, before the Miners had a chance to get a shot off. At times, the Miners were confused in their halfcourt sets and could not hang on to any momentum, falling at the end of their C-USA opener largely due to their self-inflicted mistakes.
Secondary scorer: Usually UTEP is looking for a secondary scorer to compliment Bryson Williams but in Thursday's loss, Williams was shut down for the majority of the game. He scrapped together 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but the Panthers defended him well all day and drew four fouls on Williams. It was Edwards and his 20 points on four made 3-pointers that needed secondary scoring help. Freshman Deon Stroud put up 10 points in the first half but never saw the court in the second. Edwards exploded in stretches but no one else could hit a shot late in the game. UTEP relies too heavily on its best scorers to lead the way but they need some help in relief. If Williams continues to get guarded heavily like he was against FIU, the Miners will be in trouble unless they can find more offensive production.
Rotation: No, the Miners should not be expected to have their final rotation in stone by now and for better or worse, it seems like each game is an experiment of how the coaching staff rotates players. Against FIU, we saw Stroud for just the first half (why?) and did not see much of Odigie. Saturday's lineups against FAU should be interesting to monitor as well.
In all, this has been a really strange stretch for the Miners on the road. They are a completely different team than the team we saw a month ago. They have stayed in reach of every game (with exception to the loss at Houston, 77-57) and proved they can win. But the problem right now is finding the momentum on the road and closing out games.
Florida Atlantic now feels like a must-win for UTEP.