UTEP drops fifth straight loss to Aggies in Battle of I-10 rivalry match

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Michaela Román

The Miners fall to the NMSU Aggies 79-68.

Adrian Broaddus, Mike Flores, Online Editor, Reporter

It was the 212th time the Aggies and Miners danced in the Battle of I-10 basketball matchup on a gloomy Tuesday night in the Don Haskins Center. And during the battle, or what should have been called a one-sided fight, the Aggies dominated in their 79-68 victory over the Miners.

The win-hungry Miners needed the win, and so did the 6,815 impatient fans. But the Miners, now 2-6 on the season, simply could not give enough to outlast their Las Cruses neighbors. The Aggies are now 109-103 all-time against the Miners, and also lengthened UTEP’s losing streak to five games.

This was not a contest of heart; nor was this a matchup of will.

On Tuesday night, it was a battle of numbers—a war in which the Miners ultimately lost. According to guard Dominic Artis, it was a game lost by numbers due to lack of force by the squad.

“We had a lack of intensity,” Artis said. “We get this momentum at certain points, but we got to start winning games.”

The Aggies shot an exceptional 63 percent from the floor in the first half, compared to the 35 percent shot by the Miners. They finished the game shooting 55 percent, while the Miners shot a 44 percent field goal percentage.

“I’m sick of giving up 62 percent in a half,” head coach Tim Floyd said. “That part we can control and we are going to attempt to fix it.”

The Aggies also dominated various areas of the game. They out rebounded UTEP 38-28, caused 20 turnovers and beat the Miners through their interior in a 36-26 comparison for points in the paint.

“They kicked our butt and we have to regroup again for Saturday,” Floyd said. “Omega, D.A. (Artis) are guys we are going to need to be great. We’ve struggled finding a third scorer and we’ve struggled finding a fourth scorer. We’re looking; we’re searching for scorers.”

In fact, as Floyd commented, Artis and Harris combined for nearly half of the team’s points in the loss. Artis led the team with 18 points, followed by Harris, who had 18 points in the night.

Ultimately, that was not enough for the win, or for Floyd’s standards.

“We haven’t earned anything,” Floyd said. “You need toughness and you need competitors and that’s why we coach hard. We’ll experience with a lot of things moving forward—maybe even a zone defense.”

During the first half of play, NMSU came out the aggressor and threw the Miners off by changing their defensive schemes throughout the period. NMSU played in a 2-3 zone for the majority of the half to take away UTEP’s threat from the painted area and the Aggies would go man-to-man from time to time.

Also, the Aggies’ full-court press slowed down the Miners on offense. UTEP shot a measly 34.5 percent from the field and could not buy a bucket from the 3-point range as they went 0-of-4. The Aggies, on the other hand, were relentless from beyond the arc, going 5-for-7.

UTEP trailed at the half, 41-25.

When the teams trotted back out from halftime, UTEP could not dig their way out of the hole they dug themselves in. Even though the Miners outscored the Aggies 43-38 in the second period of play, they could not win the matchup.

The home fans finally had something to cheer about as the Miners cut the deficit to ten after their 10-0 run with less than five minutes in the game. Harris and Barrett found their 3-point stroke in the run each and freshman Tim Cameron added six points in the team’s comeback effort.

Regardless, Ian Baker’s 20 points and Jemarrio Jones’ 18 points and 13 rebounds were too much for the Miners to overcome.

Willms injury update

After center Matt Willms’ promising start to the season, Floyd believes he has not shown the same type of play due to his reoccurring injury of his foot problem, which he suffered in 2014, and his broken nose earlier in the year.

“Matt hasn’t been the same since he broke his nose,” Floyd said. “He has problems with depth perception, vision and breathing. This kid doesn’t practice and he’s trying to play. There’s a reason you practice—to get better. He’s struggling with his confidence and he’s struggling with his health.

Throughout UTEP’s trip to the Gildan Charleston Classic, Willms provided a strong spark. In the tournament the big man had his season high of 22 points against Western Michigan. And, he turned in a double-double performance the next outing against Mississippi State with his 12 points and 11 rebounds.

However, in the recent losing streak for the Miners, Willms only added in one point and committed three turnovers in 31 minutes of action against New Mexico.

Against NMSU, Willms seemed to be in pain on the floor yet again. In the first half of play, he played with a mask to protect his nose, but took it off during the second half because, according to Floyd, it bothered him. Willms totaled eight points, six rebounds, and two turnovers in 23 minutes of play against NMSU.

Next, the Miners will face Northern Arizona on Saturday, Dec. 17, in the Don Haskins. Tip off will start at 7 p.m.

Follow Adrian Broaddus and Mike Flores on Twitter @adrian_broaddus and @MikeyTheReal