New-Look New Mexico State Roster Poses Great Challenge to UTEP
On Saturday night, UTEP fans will get their first look at the Greg Heiar era as his New Mexico State University men's basketball team travels to the Don Haskins Center to play the Miners in the Battle of I-10. The game is also their annual "Sell Out The Don" promotion, and currently more than 8,000 tickets have been issued for the first of potentially three rivalry games between the two schools.
While UTEP came up short in Austin Monday night against 12th ranked Texas, NMSU manhandled New Mexico Highlands in a 49-point thrashing. When Heiar was hired as Aggies head coach this past spring, he immediately brought with him his two best junior college players from Northwest Florida State College. Deshawndre Washington (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists against NM Highlands) and Issa Muhammad (20 points) will be a handful for the Miners, along with returnees like Mike Peake and Marchelus Avery.
The Aggies also received big news on Monday when former LSU guard Xavier Pinson was granted eligibility by the NCAA. Pinson, who averaged 13.6 points for LSU two seasons ago, will help strengthen the NMSU backcourt. He started against Highlands and he finished the game with four points and five assists in 28 minutes.
Coach Heiar said after the Highlands game that his team's motto is to "attack the paint and we want to protect the paint." That should make a really fun battle Saturday night when Muhammad, Peake, and Avery go up against UTEP's Ze'Rik Onyema, Kevin Kalu, Calvin Solomon, and Otis Frazier III. If that is not enough, Washington, Pinson, Gordon, Kyle Feit, and Anthony Roy will be squaring up with Shamar Givance, Tae Hardy, Jamari Sibley, and Malik Zachary. To add more fuel to the fire, UTEP head coach Joe Golding told Jon Teicher on the Miners postgame show that former NMSU guard Mario McKinney Jr. could rejoin the team later this week and be in uniform for Saturday night's home opener. Nobody on either side has more motivation in this game than McKinney.
The UTEP-NMSU rivalry should be tons of fun for all fans this season. The first installment is this Saturday night and we will have a much better idea about each team once they square off at the Don Haskins Center.