UTEP Seeks First Division I Win Against NW State Saturday
Coming off a four-point loss to NMSU on Wednesday night (62-58), the Miners (2-4) look to regroup and aim for their first win over a Divison I program as they take on Northwestern State on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Their close loss to the Aggies is one that still left a sour taste in the players’ mouths, who are seeking redemption against the Demons.
“We should’ve had a win [against NMSU]. There’s no excuses,” said sophomore guard Evan Gilyard, who scored 18 points on Wednesday night. “This gives us another opportunity for us to get a win against a Division I team.”
But for first-year head coach Rodney Terry, solely a win isn’t what the team is focused on for tomorrow’s game.
“We respect every opponent. Not a matter of getting a win, it’s a matter of getting better right now,” Terry said. “We gotta come out and compete at a high level no matter who we’re playing. It’s early in the year, no matter who you play, you better be ready. We’re excited about another opportunity for our guys to compete at a high level.”
As December rolls in, the Miners will finish out their final stretch of non-conference games, which Terry explains are important for the team to find its identity on the court.
“This time of year you’re trying to build your offense and build your defense so every possession matters for you as you’re going into December,” Terry said. “Excited about the opportunity to be at home. We know home is not enough. You gotta come in and out-compete your opponent.”
The Miners were surprised last game with the addition of junior combo guard/forward Ountae Campbell, who joined the team after being granted eligibility for the 2018-19 season by the NCAA. For Gilyard, adding Campbell to the mix is relieving in terms of depth for the team.
“It definitely helps us,” Gilyard said. “Coach does a good job at subbing us in and out to give us a breather and still affect the game in positive ways. Those guys being able to come in and still do some good things for us is a big thing for us.”
Guiding the team’s backcourt, Gilyard leads the team with 20.3 points, while averaging five boards and almost three assists per game.
“It’s my confidence,” Gilyard said. “I’ve been working on it since I was four years old. I got pride in myself and I know I can do what I’ve been brought on earth to do. When I come in the game, when I’m knocking down my shots, I’m in my zone.”
The team’s frontcourt, who is out-boarding opposing teams on a plus-2.3 margin, is led by freshmen big men Efe Odigie and Kaosi Ezeagu. Odigie is currently averaging 9.2 boards per game, which is second-best in C-USA, while Ezeagu has been playing significant minutes off the bench, including his nine rebound performance against NMSU.
“You’d always like to think if you have a first big off the bench, he can hold and be the anchor,” Terry said. “[Ezeagu has] come in and definitely given us some good energy off the bench. He’s been a really good presence for us defensively and rebounding.”
NW State (2-5) enters Saturday’s game off a win over Alabama A&M, which snapped their four-game losing streak. They are led by forward Ishmael Lane, a 6-foot-8 big man that averages 14.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Senior guard DeAndre Love follows Lane, averaging 10.3 points per game.
As a team, the Demons averages 66.9 points per game, 38 percent from the floor and 37.6 rebounds.
The matchup Saturday makes for a formidable matchup that Terry says will be ready for the Miners.
“We’re playing an opponent that’s not going to be intimidated by us,” he said. “They’ve faced really good competition up to this point. You gotta come out and out-compete your opponent for 40 minutes.”
And as far as the team’s progress up to this point, Gilyard says the bunch has been making strides since the start of the season, especially the team's chemistry.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Gilyard said. “At the beginning, you gotta get a feel for everybody, see what they’re good at. We’re just getting bigger and better every day. We hang around each other every day. We engage with each other every day so when we’re on the court together, it’s nothing different than being off the court together.”
Tip-off against NW State is slated for 7 p.m. at the Don Haskins Center.