That’s what needs to be the mantra of the UTEP men’s basketball squad (14-17) heading into the C-USA Tournament as a 9th seed.
This season had its peaks and valleys. They edged out tough, overtime wins in the Jim Forbes Classic against mid-majors Alcorn State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. But as soon as C-USA play hit in late December, the inability to shoot offensively (29% 3-point percentage, 64% free throw percentage) hurt the Miners’ chances in a challenging Conference USA slate. They proceeded to go 7-13 in C-USA, along with being swept against the top 3 teams in the league in Florida Atlantic, UAB and North Texas. They closed out the year by burying a tough Middle Tennessee State team (77-65). Through it all, they fought and challenged most teams, playing 13 games decided by six points or less (6-7 record in those games). Not a single Miner was represented on the postseason All C-USA list. This season will be remembered as a hard-nosed defensive group, which ranked first in C-USA by almost every defensive metric (101 adj. defensive eff. by KenPom, 3rd in C-USA). And, this season will be remembered for historic lows when it comes to team 3-point and free throw percentage.
Then there are the uncontrollables. Mario McKinney's suspension midway through the season hurt them in the long run. McKinney was thought to morph into a go-to option for UTEP when the year started, but could never find continuity with the team. Jonathan Dos Anjos, who was the first signee of the 2022 recruiting class for Joe Golding, was injury-riddled all season, despite showing flashes.
Looking beyond Frisco — because everyone will — it’s hard to tell what’s ahead for the Miners. Shamar Givance’s graduation will make him the obvious loss for the team. Of course, the transfer portal looms. Golding rebuilt a team last offseason with 10 newcomers. Regardless of the finish for the season, roster continuity should be a priority for this group.
What if they beat Western Kentucky? They have nothing to lose.
Western Kentucky, which swept the Miners this season, went 1-1 last week. They were recently dominated by North Texas (67-33). WKU leads the series (8-1) and has won six straight games against the Miners. Dayvion McKnight leads their team at 16.5 ppg (fifth C-USA). The Hilltoppers shoot the 3-point shot well (36.5-fourth C-USA/64th NCAA).
Golding coached last year’s squad to a strong beating of Old Dominion (74-64) as a fourth seed. However, Frisco has been tough to the Miners over the years, as they’ve recorded a 1-4 record all-time (thanks Larry in Horizon!).
The winner of the game will get the seemingly-impossible task of having to knock off top-seeded Florida Atlantic in the quarterfinal round of the tournament.
600 ESPN will have all the coverage of the C-USA Championships with the men’s and women’s basketball games. The men’s matchup tips off at 4:00 with the Countdown to Tip-off Show, followed by a 4:30 local start. MinerTalk will follow the broadcast with Sal Montes on 600 ESPN El Paso. Tune in!
UTEP men's basketball downs UTSA to snap a 4-game losing streak