Men’s team shows grit in Corpus Christi Classic

Junior+guard+Dominic+Artis+leads+the+Miners+assists+and+assist+to+turnover+ratio+through+six+games.+

Michaela Roman

Junior guard Dominic Artis leads the Miners assists and assist to turnover ratio through six games.

Adrian Broaddus, Staff Reporter

After being crowned champions at the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic tournament, the UTEP men’s basketball is off to its best start in 15 years. It’s the first time since the 2000-01 season that the Miners have started 6-0.

With the title, the Miners captured their first in-season championship since 1984.

After breezing past Alcorn State and Florida A&M, 88-66 and 72-54, respectively, Tim Floyd and the Miners found themselves on the road for the first time this season, traveling to Corpus Christi, Nov. 27 – 28.

Led by the two big men down low, Hooper Vint and Terry Winn combined for 33 points and lifted the group over the likes of Southern Illinois, 71-66.

Next came the championship game against a very familiar Colorado State team. Head coach of the Rams, Larry Eustachy, was the assistant coach for Tim Floyd at Idaho during the 1986-87 season,. Also, this was the 73rd time the two teams clashed. The long-time rivals did not fail to play an exhilarating game.

Despite trailing by 17 at the half, the Miners stormed out in the second half, opening with a 10-0 run. With nine minutes to go, losing 62-52, UTEP rallied with a 9-0 run and closed the gap to one point. Then both teams traded baskets until the end of regulation. After Emmanuel Omogbo of the Rams hit a jumper, Moore responded with a clutch 3-pointer that would send the game into overtime, deadlocked at 73-73.

Although the Miners stole a quick lead, Colorado State was able to tie the game at 81. Junior guard Dominic Artis attempted a last-second step back jumper, but could not convert. The game was sent to double overtime.

With back-to-back layups by Vint and Morris, the Rams were not able to find any luck in the second extra period. Tevin Caldwell capped the win for the Miners with an offensive rebound with less than two minutes remaining, thus sending the squad to the charity stipe to extend the lead.

Earvin Morris and Lee Moore both posted a team-high 28 points as the Miners defeated the Rams 99-90 in double overtime, thus being crowned champions of the tournament.

“I’m real proud of them,” Floyd said after the game to UTEP athletics. “We’ve got a lot of things that we still need to get better at. We got thoroughly pummeled on the glass (against Colorado State). We’ve got to simply get better on the glass some way or another.  We’ve got to figure that out. I think we can learn a lot from this game though, and that’s the beautiful thing about it. That’s a very good, well-coached Colorado State team and it’s a quality win for us.”

Morris was named the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic tournament MVP, while Moore and Vint were named to the All-Tournament Team.

Morris finished the four games with 70 points, including his 58.8 shooting percentage in the championship game, where he made 10-of-17 shots and 7-of-8 free throws.

Moore led the team in scoring throughout the four-game period with 72 points. His game high came from the championship game as well..

Artis continues to be a dual threat in scoring and in assists. He scored 43 total points in the tournament, but his ability to distribute with a low turnover rate has made for a very efficient start to the season. Artis has 36 assists this season and averages six per game. He accounts for 39 percent of the team’s assists thus far.

Vint and Winn continue to dominate the paint for the squad as well. Winn finished with 12 points in the championship, while Vint barely missed a double-double, scoring 13 and snatching nine boards.

In the championship win, Floyd was able to dip into his bench and give minutes to different faces. The newcomers to the squad have been playing substantial minutes thus far and continue to contribute to the team. Players such as Paul Thomas, Trey Touchet and Christian Romine are getting substantial minutes and portrays that depth is a factor that Floyd continues to seek for the team.

“We were able to get great minutes from Trey Touchet off the bench and Paul Thomas off the bench in critical times,” Floyd said. “Those two freshmen were outstanding, and Christian Romine for a couple of minutes.”

Although they faced some less challenging opponents in the opening six games, the Miners will have an arduous road ahead. During the tougher drive, the Miners will face rival New Mexico State twice, and host University of Texas at Arlington, who have already beat Ohio State and Memphis and Pac-12 affiliate Washington State.

“It’s a good group,” Floyd adds regarding the team. “I think they’re resilient. We had chances to lose (against Southern Illinois).  I’m just glad that we didn’t and we’re learning how to win.”    

Floyd and his team will attempt to continue their unbeaten streak against New Mexico State on Wednesday, Dec. 2 in the Pan American Center in Las Cruces. Tip off for their first official road game is set for 7 p.m.

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]