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Men’s basketball seeks promising start to season

Michaela Roman
UTEP men’s basketball will start their season on Saturday, Nov. 12, against Louisiana College.

UTEP men’s basketball will tip their season off at the Don Haskins Center against the Louisiana College Wildcats on Saturday, Nov. 12.

In the 2015-2016 season, the Miners went 19-14 and defended their home court strongly, going 14-4. UTEP opened on a six-game winning streak to start last year’s season, and this year the Miners look to do the same, starting with the Wildcats.

On the other side, the Division III LCU battled their way to a 14-13 winning record last season, but they did not travel well—going 4-9 away from their home court.

New and upcoming years are a time for teams to clean their slate and start off fresh—that’s what the Miners will do with six incoming freshmen on the roster and nine players not returning from the previous season.

Nonetheless, some of the biggest downfalls last year for UTEP basketball were their ability to protect the paint and secure rebounds. Most of their struggles had to do with injuries in the front court, with the Miners’ starting center Matt Willms missing all but two games last season.

That Miners’ unit was outside of the top 50 in rebounding last year, averaging 36 rebounds per game as a team, and found themselves ranked 160th in blocks per game, with only 3.5 per contest—all without the big man Willms.

Floyd decided to recruit smaller for the new season and picked guards for five out of the six new recruits. True freshman Kelvin Jones is the lone center among the new faces.

Willms and Jones have grown close during their short amount of time together and have helped one another out, something that may be a lethal weapon for the Miners’ long season ahead.

“When he’s (Jones) playing, I’m talking to him when he comes to the bench. Whatever he needs help on this year, I’m going to help him out,” Willms said. “And whatever he sees in me, he’s going to help me out too.”

In the two exhibition games, the new-look Miners took to the hardwood with two things on their mind—improve defensively and limit turnovers.

During their second pre-season matchup, UTEP welcomed in the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks, on Nov. 5. The smaller Division II school gave the Miners a run for their money, and pushed UTEP to their limits more than some would have expected. After an overtime, the Miners pulled away with a close 87-85 victory.

Willms made his highly anticipated debut and logged 14 minutes—his first action since 2014. He shot 100 percent on his field goal attempts, 4-4, added 10 points on the night and two rebounds, one coming on the offensive boards.

Although Willms only played three minutes in the second half, he was thrilled to finally lace up again.

“After being out for a year, it felt really, really good to be out there. I felt very confident,” Willms said. “I’m just trying to lead by example.”

Floyd’s plans for the Canadian 7-footer are clear cut and precise. Willms is the tallest guy on UTEP’s roster.

“Our goal as a whole, is to get Matt Willms healthy, where he can play about 30-35 minutes a game, and get some support from the other guys,” Floyd said. “That kid (Willms), has practiced with us a total of six days in the last two years, but we’re still better with him than without his presence.”

Terry Winn was the head of the rebounding committee against the Nanooks and totaled nine in the matchup. Jones helped out on the boards as well, with eight of his own. UTEP outrebounded the shorter Alaskans, 50-38, on the glass.

Knowing that one of UTEP’s biggest areas of improvement should be taking care of the ball; the trend went downward from exhibition game one to game two. The offense for the Miners was careless, once again, with their possessions—UTEP turned it over 23 times, three more than the previous matchup. Dominic Artis had six mistakes, adding up to double digits in the turnover category.

Winn had one of the most crucial turnovers from his side. He lost the ball when the Miners had a chance to ice the game, and close the game with a potential buzzer-beating shot. But instead of seeing his turnover as a bad thing, Floyd found the silver lining in it—something different from previous teams.

“The most important thing from Terry’s game was him only having one turnover. He had 12 in our orange and white scrimmage,” Floyd said. “He’s beating himself up on his turnovers, most guys beat themselves up on missed shots, but he’s doing it when he throws the ball away. He knows that it’s not good for our team.”

Artis continued his unreal scoring with 25 points, and eight of his points coming in overtime. Winn chipped in with 19, and Omega Harris had 10—all coming in the second half.

However, UTEP’s defense will need to add another item to the correct in the lab, and that is getting out on the 3-point line. UAF connected on 15 3-point buckets, and three of the downtown shots came in overtime, almost ending the comeback attempt for the Miners. Floyd’s team only attempted eight 3-pointers in the whole  40 minutes of play, compared to UAF’s 41 attempts.

“We shoot the 3-ball extremely well as a group, but we are focused on getting the ball in the paint, getting it inside, with our size on this team,” Artis said. “Matt changes the whole dynamic of the team.”

Regardless, UTEP did win their second game with the unfamiliar look to these new players. Team chemistry and playing alongside each other is still in the works.  Floyd also sees room for improvement, before the regular season commences.

“We have to get better with our decision making, too many turnovers in the first two games,” Floyd said. “Come and watch us grow this season. We’re obviously going to be better in March than we are in October, November.”

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About the Contributor
Michaela Roman
Michaela Roman, Editor-in-Chief
Michaela is a Senior Digital Media Production major at The University of Texas at El Paso. As the Editor-in-Chief, and former Photo Editor of The Prospector, she has learned to stay organized, manage a staff of writers and photographers, meet deadlines, cover events and network with others. She also has freelance experience and a personal photography business. Michaela aspires to work as an editor for a large media outlet and one day go to graduate school to teach photojournalism.
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Men’s basketball seeks promising start to season