UTEP 65 – NMSU 50: Miners Snap Nine-Game Losing Streak in Battle of I-10
Call it a magical night. Call it a long time coming. Call it a sigh of relief.
Or call the 65-50 win over New Mexico State in the Battle of I-10 a pivotal moment for the UTEP men's basketball program.
Four-plus years and nine straight losses to the Aggies made this an uphill battle for the Miners, even as New Mexico State (1-1) was without their star guard AJ Harris and Clayton Henry in the matchup due to injuries.
This ending was a 15-point game by definition only. The game was back-and-forth to begin with while UTEP (2-0) was able to secure the win in the final five minutes of the game.
In front of a surprisingly modest 8,933 fans, UTEP got off to an early 6-2 lead and went blow-for-blow with NMSU in the first half, which featured four lead changes. The Miners ended the half with a 28-25 lead.
But it wasn't until the second half where the Miners showed their true fangs.
UTEP led throughout the second half and even when Bryson Williams, Jordan Lathon and Efe Odigie left the game due to foul trouble, the Miners' bench held its own and halted any sort of Aggies comeback. Tydus Verhoeven and Nigel Hawkins had some meaningful minutes off the bench late in the game and by the time the three players checked back in, Williams simply closed out the game with a pair of monstrous dunks.
He led the way with 19 points, eight rebounds and just two turnovers in only 17 minutes of action. Lathon had another commanding game at the point guard spot, scoring 13 points, snagging four rebounds, totaling three steals and dishing a pair of assists with a +22 efficiency rating.
They are transcending into the Miners' most important players.
Eric Vila, Daryl Edwards and Souley Boum combined for 22 points for UTEP as well.
Against a depleted Aggies, the Miners defense forced 16 turnovers and held NMSU to shooting just 36.8 percent from the floor and 23.1 percent from 3-point range. The Aggies hurt themselves by going an abysmal 2-of-11 from the charity stripe.
It felt like a big win for the team. They had handled Texas Tech in a charity exhibition game, squeaked past Grand Canyon in their second exhibition, beat a New Mexico Highlands team last week—none feeling more important this.
And on the other side, even though Chris Jans' Aggies were injured, NMSU played some poor basketball at the Don Haskins Center on Tuesday. There is no way Jans will let UTEP beat New Mexico State by 15 points when they meet again on Dec. 3 in Las Cruces.
Jans and NMSU will be ready in round two.
For now, the Miners—and Miner nation—can enjoy the essential win.
UTEP will host Eastern New Mexico on Friday at 7 p.m. and will host New Mexico next Tuesday at the Don Haskins Center.
Here is the full photo gallery by Gaby Velasquez: