Miners take Round 1 in Battle of I-10

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Miners take Round 1 in Battle of I-10

Junior guard Earvin Morris attempts a layup over Aggie defenders.

Junior guard Earvin Morris attempts a layup over Aggie defenders.

Michaela Roman

Junior guard Earvin Morris attempts a layup over Aggie defenders.

Michaela Roman

Michaela Roman

Junior guard Earvin Morris attempts a layup over Aggie defenders.

Javier Cortez, Sports Editor

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In the first round of the Battle of I-10 the UTEP men’s basketball team defeated the New Mexico State Aggies 77-76 in thrilling fashion at the Don Haskins Center in front of a ruckus crowd of 11,127.

The game had a peculiar start as UTEP head coach Tim Floyd started an underclassmen heavy lineup consisting of; Earvin Morris, Lew Stallworth, Omega Harris, Terry Winn, and Matt Willms.

Coach Floyd’s reason for the lineup was so that his veterans players; Julian Washburn, Vince Hunter, C.J. Cooper, and Cedrick Lang would give the Miners a boost of the bench.

That strategy did not work as the Miners came out flat offensively, which would set the tone for an Aggie dominated half. New Mexico State shot 58 percent from the field and 55 percent from the 3-point line to give them a 12-point lead going into halftime. Offensively the Miners were the exact opposite of the Aggies in the first half, shooting a dismal 32 percent from the field.

“In practice all week we worked on everything we needed to work on and in the first half we didn’t do those things,” said senior guard C.J. Cooper. “Coach Floyd came out and told us we weren’t doing them, so we got together and said that’s something we got to do and comeback from it so it was good for us.”

The Miners immediately stormed back into the second half, cutting the Aggies lead to single digits within a matter of two minutes. As the minutes ticked down the Aggie lead became shorter and shorter.

Over a nine minute stretch the Aggies held a narrow lead but the Miners could not close the gap, due to the fact that they could not finish possessions at the free throw line. UTEP shot 11 of 20 from the free throw line in the second half and it was nearly their down fall.

With four minutes and 44 seconds left in the second half, C.J. Cooper found space at the top of the 3-point line and gave the Miners their first lead since 11:51 mark in the first half. After the Cooper three the Miners did not look back, as they went on a 10-2 run and were in firm control of the game.

The Aggies never stopped fighting though. They closed the eight-point gap by forcing turnovers, making timely shots, and missed free throws by the Miners. With six seconds left in the game freshman guard Omega Harris went to the line looking to extend the Miners lead to three, but Harris missed both shots. NMSU grabbed the rebound and WAC player of the year Daniel Mullings raced down the court looking for the game-winning basket. Mullings missed the shot, which was representative of his night, as he only scored a mere six points.

Coach Floyd attributed Mullings rough night to senior guard Julian Washburn’s defense.

“I can’t say enough about the job Julian Washburn did on (Daniel) Mullings,” Floyd said. “It was huge. They (NMSU) rely on him (Mullings) so much.”

The win over NMSU tonight snaps the Miners three game losing streak against the Aggies, and is their first win in the Battle of I-10 since November 28, 2012.

“I though it was just a tremendous atmosphere and a great great college basketball game,” Floyd said. “We have had 100 years of these types of games and you never know what is going to happen.”

Even with the win tonight the Aggies still lead the overall series 105-103, but the joy of beating a rival is something the Miners will take right now.

“It feels really good,” Cooper said. “But we want to keep it going, we play there (Las Cruces) in a couple of weeks, and we want to go down there and get a win.”

Round two of the Battle of I-10 will take place in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Dec. 6 at the Pan American Center.

 

 

 

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

 

 

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