Aggies even Battle of I-10, 71-64

Freshman+guard+Omega+Harris+dribbles+the+ball+past+an+Aggie+defender.+

Michaela Roman

Freshman guard Omega Harris dribbles the ball past an Aggie defender.

Luis Gonzalez, Sports Editor

Senior forward Cedric Lang scores two of his team high 12-points.
Michaela Roman
Senior forward Cedric Lang scores two of his team high 12-points.

LAS CRUCES, N.M.— The UTEP men’s basketball team suffered their third straight loss against a depleted New Mexico State tonight at the PanAmerican Center by a final of 71-64. The Aggies maintained their undefeated home record despite missing the reigning WAC player of the year in Daniel Mullings and senior center Tshilidzi Nephawe.

“Looking at the stat sheet you feel like you won,” said UTEP coach Tim Floyd. “We won most categories except the free throw line.”

As they have done frequently in this young season, the Miners got off to a slow start offensively, not getting into double digits till after 10 minutes of play and an early 16-8 hole. The strong defense helped UTEP climb back into the game and into a tie after the first 20 minutes of the game. Perhaps the most important storyline of the half and the game was the lack of minutes for UTEP forward Vince Hunter. The reigning C-USA freshman of the year was on the bench to start the contest and played just nine of the first 20 minutes due to foul trouble.

“We just wanted to try a different look,” said Floyd about Hunter not starting.

NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies said the focal point of the Aggie game plan was limiting the Miner sophomore.

“We designed a lot of what we were going to do around him as a player,” Menzies said. “He killed us last time, in El Paso, I’d be stupid no to try to do something different.”

Foul trouble continued to limit Hunter in the second half in which he played just seven minutes before fouling out with more than six minutes still remaining. He ended the night with five rebounds and eight points, making it the first game of the season in which he does not record a double-double.

“Couldn’t keep Vince Hunter in the game long enough,” Floyd said. “He played sixteen minutes, it’s not enough minutes.”

Still, even without Hunter, the Miners came out firing in the second half and were able to grab the lead and push it up to nine with 13 minutes left in the game.  Center Matt Willms played a key role in UTEP’s early second half success before also leaving the game because of foul trouble.

“Matt Willms I thought was really impactful in the game, defensively he blocked shots,” Floyd said. “He fouled out and it was a real problem for us in terms of their penetration and ability to get to the rim.”

The seven foot sophomore recorded four blocks on the night before fouling out with 8 minutes to play. The loss of two of their big men was too much for the Miners to overcome on both ends of the floor. NMSU finished the game on a 31-15 run.

The Miners fall to 4-3 after starting the season with four consecutive victories. The current stretch of losses does not have Coach Floyd too concerned, hoping this long road stretch that began over two weeks ago will be beneficial in the long run.

“We knew going into this stretch, it was going to be arguably the most difficult stretch in our schedule,” Floyd said. “We knew it would help prepare us once we got into league plat and I trust that is still true.”

The Miners will now return home in a quick turnaround to host the University of the Incarnate Word on Monday. The undefeated Cardinals recently just became a Division I program and will come to the Don Haskins undefeated.

“We’re going to regroup turn around and play another very good team, an undefeated team,” Floyd said.

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected]