What Almost Was: NMSU’s Slight Win Shows Improvement for Miners
The Battle of I-10 has been a rivalry game that hasn't seen too many close games or back-and-forth battles in a while. Earlier this year, NMSU stomped on UTEP 96-69, which has been a staple to how much the Aggies have separated themselves over the Miners.
But not Wednesday night.
In front of 6,106 roaring fans, the Don Haskins Center was alive for a well-contested war between the two schools that featured eight lead changes, a surging comeback by the Miners and NMSU eventually breaking away with a 62-58 win.
This marks the ninth straight victory over the Miners for the Aggies, including winning 12 of the last 13 games against UTEP.
"Well fought basketball game," said NMSU head coach Chris Jans. "Coach Terry is doing a great job. I've watched all of their games and they are progressing and improving in each game. We had our hands full."
UTEP starts quick, NMSU closes the gap
The Miners took risks to start the game. They defended the perimeter well in the first half, holding the Aggies to shooting 3-for-10 beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Evan Gilyard had two quick 3's to start the game and chipped in with 10 points to close the half.
Although the Miners turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, they forced nine turnovers on defense, including two steals by freshman guard Jordan Lathon. UTEP scored 11 points off turnovers in the first half.
The Aggies pulled away with a late first half run and closed out the half with a slight 28-26 lead.
NMSU breaks away with a second half run
Early in the second half, things started to look ugly for the Miners. They suffered through a near five-minute scoring lull, where the Aggies pulled away with a 13-0 run. The Miners turned the ball over four times in that stretch that led to Aggies points.
NMSU's Clayton Henry knocked down two 3-pointers in that stretch, while the team got 10 points off the bench in the second half.
UTEP claws back into the game
After a lengthy timeout, UTEP head coach Rodney Terry sat down with his team, made some adjustments on defense and barked at his team for some sort of a comeback. Miners were down 10, 46-36, with just over 10 minutes to play.
Then the Miners went on a 6-0 run, which featured a slam-dunk by freshman forward Kaosi Ezeagu. Defensively, the Miners forced the Aggies to miss their next six shots from the floor.
“I give my guys credit for battling back," Terry said. "Two weeks ago, 11 minutes to go, and they go on a run we are probably not withstanding that. So, we have grown in that regards to know it is a long game, and that there are still a lot of possessions in this game and that this game is still a long way from being over. We put ourselves in position to win the game down the stretch now you have to execute down the stretch.”
"A couple weeks ago, we probably would’ve folded a little bit and it would’ve been tough for our young guys to compete but they found a way, they played resiliently and gave us a chance down the stretch to win the game."
Free throws and turnovers kill the Miners
Coming into this game, UTEP was the worst in C-USA for free throw percentage (.595) and in the turnover margin (-6).
And on Wednesday, they couldn't escape their past.
Despite a "resilient" comeback by the squad, the Miners shot 50 percent (7-for-14) at the charity stripe and turned the ball over 22 times during the game, 10 of which came in the second half.
"We work on our free throws and we just have to knock them down. Give [NMSU] credit, they made theirs," Terry said. "We left some there that we really needed."
NMSU hit a shot with 15.8 seconds left on the clock and would hold on to beat out the Miners by just four points.
"I don’t know how many points they got off turnovers, but I can guarantee it was quite a few possessions off turnovers," Terry said. "You have to make decisive plays and know you aren't beat yourself. Continue work on that and continue to be a hard, scrappy team."
NMSU scored 16 points off turnovers in the second half and 21 total in the game. Ivan Aurrecoechea’s 15 points and six-rebound performance led them, while Henry chipped in with nine points and six boards.
Evan Gilyard led the Miners again with 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Freshman big man Efe Odigie put up 12 points and four rebounds, while freshman forward Kaosi Ezeagu led the team on the glass with nine rebounds and a steal.
As a team, the Miners shot 47.9 percent from the floor, 35.7 percent from 3-point range and scored 26 points in the paint.
NMSU shot 44 percent from the floor, 30 percent from beyond the arc and had a 78.6 free throw percentage.
"We have to be able to close out games and play 40 minutes," Terry said. "Again, we work on our free throws, we just have to knock them down. Gotta value taking care of the ball. We just haven’t valued taking care of the ball. We’ve beat ourselves with turnovers."
Ountae Campbell joins the mix
To much surprise, UTEP men's basketball debuted a new player on the court last night with the addition of redshirt junior combo guard/forward Outae Campbell. Previously, Campbell was required to sit out a year due to the NCAA transfer rules, but the NCAA granted him permission to play for the team, according to his recent post on social media.
Campbell finished with three points through 15 minutes in his debut and looks to add more depth to this team down the line.
Next up, the Miners will host NW State on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Don Haskins Center. As for the fans, Terry applauds the home court on Wednesday night.
"We had a great home court," he said. "Our fans really got behind our team and we really appreciate them being here tonight hopefully. Any time when you have a young team, you’re going to be in highly contested games and they are going to have to figure out how to win those. A lot of times it gets down to execution and who’s your go-to guy at the end. That’s a process, but we’re going to get there."