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Defense powers Miners to first win

Omega+Harris+elated+after+UTEPs+victory+over+WSU.
Andres Martinez
Omega Harris elated after UTEP’s victory over WSU.

It’s only the first official game of the season but the UTEP men’s basketball team’s defense was on point as they beat the Washington State Cougars 65-52 tonight at the Don Haskins. Led by Vince Hunter’s 14 points and career-high 16 rebounds the Miners got their first win of the season in front of a crowd of more 10,419.

It took almost five minutes for Washington State to get on the board. UTEP held the Cougars offense to just 35 percent shooting, forcing 22 turnovers and coming up with five blocks. The disciplined and energetic Miner defense was, for the most part, able keep the Cougar’s two most important offensive players in check. DaVonte Lacy, member of the Pac-12 All-Star team, finished the game 3-12 from the field and Dexter Kernich-Drew was held scoreless throughout the contest.

“We defended pretty well,” said Miner head coach Tim Floyd. “We tried to take out Lacy, he got a couple of baskets late on us, and Drew was another guy we were concerned and did a good job there.”

In a game where UTEP led from start to finish, perhaps the biggest story was the rebounding performance of the team. Led by the sophomore Hunter, who eclipsed his previous career-high 15 rebounds, the Miners out-rebounded Washington State 46-37.

“Were getting better at rebounding,” Hunter said. “We just made it our focus to go to the offensive glass and defensive glass every time. That’s just how we wanna play, we want to beat teams rebounding.”

Of the 46 rebounds, 17 were on the offensive side of the ball and led to 18 second chance points for the Miners. On a night when UTEP shot just 35 percent from the field offensive rebounding was a key to emerging victorious.

“I thought we were as good as we’ve been since I’ve been here in terms of going to the offensive board,” Floyd said. “You have a chance to be a good rebounding team when your small forward is a rebounder.”

The result was never really in doubt for the Miners even with a couple of runs made by the Cougars, that at one point brought them within four points of the Miners. After limiting Washington State to just 15 points for 17 minutes of the first half, the Cougars finished the half 11-5 run to go into halftime with a score of 32-26.The Miners struggled offensively to start the half but after a 12-4 run that started with 11 minutes left in the game, UTEP was able to put the game away.

Junior transfer guard Earvin Morris was one of the three Miners to score double digits and played significant minutes along with fellow newcomers, freshmen guards Omega Harris and Lew Stallworth. The opportunity to involve these new pieces and provide them with in-game experience was extremely valuable and important for coach Floyd.

“We were able to play a lot of guys and get our freshmen in,” Floyd said. “One of the concerns with the preconference schedule that we have chosen to play is that it’s so challenging to get your freshmen some minutes. Were really proud of how our younger guys played.”

The Miners will now focus on the first of two games they will play against rival New Mexico State. UTEP will be looking to avenge last season’s two losses to the Aggies when they host them Saturday night at the Don Haskins in their second game of the season.

 

 

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected].

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Defense powers Miners to first win