Ten Quick Takeaways After UTEP Basketball’s 89-76 Win Versus UC Santa Barbara
UTEP men's basketball claimed their first win against a Division I opponent last night in a swift 89-76 win against UC Santa Barbara on Monday night at the Don Haskins Center in front of 7,121 fans.
Check out our latest edition of MinerTalk, presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency, for our instant reactions and takeaways:
1. Zid Powell is the ultimate alpha point guard
The star of the show on Monday night was Zid Powell. Miner fans were sold on the idea that the Buffalo transfer could be an immediate impact player as a graduate transfer. His alpha mentality and effectiveness as a point guard were on full display against the Gauchos.
Powell finished the game with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including four assists to just two turnovers in 25 minutes of action. In the first half when the Miners underwent a four-minute scoring drought, Powell got them out of the rut with a pair of baskets, which might be a foreshadowing of what to expect from their starting point guard.
As a true point guard, Powell showed last night that he can take a score-first approach when needed, attack the basket and draw contact. But at the same time, he's a selfless player and gets his teammates involved with his passing.
2. Tae Hardy has leveled up
Last year, guard Tae Hardy led the team in scoring (12.8 ppg) as an off-ball guard in the backcourt. However, this season, Hardy looks refreshed and much more well-rounded as a player.
On Monday night, Hardy was diving for loose balls, dishing out nice passes and scoring at all three levels. He finished with 19 points and a team-high eight assists in an active night in which he played 36 minutes. Hardy's a better defender this year and plays with more confidence than last season.
Could Hardy and Powell be among the best backcourts in CUSA? It's too early to tell now, but we'll find out as the season continues.
3. The margin for error is greater than last year
UTEP's margin for error last year was extremely slim. If they fell behind in games or if the opposing team turned the game into a shootout, the Miners from 2022-23 couldn't keep up. This year's margin for error seems much greater than last year, which is a positive for this group.
This was pointed out by "award-winning listener" Ronnie on MinerTalk last night.
If the Miners are behind in games, don't count this group out. They have fight to with them. If they turn the ball over, which they only did seven times Monday, they seem to make up for it on ensuing possessions. Aside from their 53% clip at the free throw line (8-for-15), the Miners made up for their errors in their win against UCSB, something they couldn't say last year.
4. True freshman Terrell Jr. is a true baller
True freshman playing Division I basketball is a rarity nowadays, partly because of the immediate impact that transfers can make on different programs and how difficult it might be for younger, unproven players to earn minutes. David Terrell Jr. is going to earn minutes all season as a true freshman on this squad.
The Mansfield Summit graduate was all over the floor in his 13 minutes against UCSB. He creates his own shot off-ball and on-ball, totaling seven points last night. He was active on defense and even logged a steal. And, he grabs rebounds and dishes out assists in games as well.
Terrell Jr. is polished and further than I anticipated up to this point. He looks to be a suitable backup to Powell throughout the season and his upside with this squad is high.
5. Elijah Jones will be let loose
In only his third college basketball game of his career, redshirt freshman Elijah Jones continues to show why he will be a go-to option off the bench in the frontcourt for this team.
Calvin Solomon (12 points,13 rebounds) was the top player among the frontcourt last night, and when Solomon hit the bench, UTEP didn't have a drop-off with Jones as his backup. Jones, an East Carolina transfer, scored nine points and grabbed six boards in 21 minutes to lead the bench unit for the Miners.
After the game, head coach Joe Golding told the broadcast that he wants Jones to play free and said how the coaching staff will give him a longer leash in games. Sure, Jones can improve on defense, but his athleticism will serve him well throughout the season.
6. Don't forget about Otis Frazier III
It won't reflect in the stat sheet, but Otis Frazier III was one of the most impactful players on the court last night. He ended with nine points, three steals and two assists. However, he led the Miners in plus-minus at +21.
Postgame, players credited Frazier III's tenacity on defense and said he helped spark their 8-0 run to start the second half. It felt like he was involved and active on every offensive and defensive set he was a part of. Frazier III looks physically improved from a season ago and is going to be a catalyst for the success of the team this year.
7. Corey Camper Jr. has some pop to his play
Out of the JUCO ranks, Corey Camper Jr. will serve as a scoring boost for the Miners off the bench. Mark my words, he will win them a game this year and lead them in scoring at least in one matchup.
Camper Jr. was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field with eight points, two boards and an assist in the win against UCSB. As a versatile guard, he can play a little point guard and is at his best at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
8. Free Baylor? Miner players want Hebb cleared
Colorado State transfer Baylor Hebb is the only player that hasn't cleared his NCAA waiver and is considered ineligible currently for the Miners as a two-time transfer. After the win over UCSB, each player kept saying "free Baylor," voicing their desire for Hebb to clear his waiver and become eligible for this year's squad.
Hebb is known to be a sharpshooter and could help add another body to the already talented backcourt. Golding has recruited Hebb since he was a 3-star high schooler at Colleyville Heritage High School.
Even though Golding has publicly said they are unsure if he will clear a waiver to play this season, the coaching staff is bullish about Hebb's eventual addition to this squad. The team's chemistry is evident as, following the victory, players immediately expressed their endorsement for Hebb to play in this year's games.
9. Defense is still the strongpoint
While the offense does look much improved from last year, defense is and always will be the strongpoint of a Golding-coached squad. UCSB totaled 17 turnovers on Monday, including 10 forced in the first half by the Miners.
UTEP's stop percentage, which estimates the rate of defensive possessions where the opponents didn't score, was extremely positive on Monday. Players like Calvin Solomon (101.5%) and Elijah Jones (104.4%) virtually allowed no points scored on them throughout the game.
Some individuals must improve defensively, but for starters, the defense looks sharp.
10. The chemistry is already there
The highlight reel dunks. The no-look flashy passes. The chest bumps and high five's during timeouts. Coaches and players even jumped into the student section to celebrate the win postgame.
All of these things matter.
It might not matter to the outsiders. Might not matter to the national college basketball audience. But it gives reassurance, validation and purpose to this team. It doesn't take much to watch this team and realize how tight-knit this group is. And, they're only three games into the season.