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Men’s basketball loses sixth straight against Northern Arizona

Gaby Velasquez

It has been over a month since UTEP men’s basketball tasted a victory, and their win drought continued on Dec. 17 against Northern Arizona (3-9) after the 76-74 loss in the Don Haskins Center.

Now at 2-7 on the year, UTEP holds the worst record in Conference USA with their sixth straight loss. The Miners performed differently than they have all season. Coming into the matchup, NAU attempted the 12th most three-pointers in the nation, but it was UTEP who jacked up the 3-point shot more than NAU. The team in Orange and Blue tried to beat the Lumberjacks at their own game and payed the price at the end of the night.

As a team, UTEP shot 35 percent and relied on the three-ball to try and shadow their poor defensive effort (11-31), in comparison to NAU’s 8-21 night from downtown. The Miners only got to the free throw line ten times due to their trigger-happy 3-point night.

“You have to look back at our possessions when we did get in inside, and those possessions were empty. We did not finish plays right at the rim,” Floyd said. “Those missed three’s are missed possessions. The number we have to control is the 76 number. If we capitalize what we do in practice, then that number will correct itself.”

Throughout the first half of play, head coach of the Miners Tim Floyd seemed to be cruising past the Lumberjacks as his unit held the lead for first 15 minutes. But when the last five minutes of the period crept up, NAU went on an 8-0 run to tie things up at 22 and the Lumberjacks kept their momentum growing, giving them the 34-29 advantage at halftime after the 20-7 run the Miners held until the break. The run by NAU simply erased all of UTEP’s bright spot.

The Miners kept their turnovers to a minimum during their lead, but when NAU took over on the scoreboard UTEP coughed it up six out of their seven times in the last six minutes of the period. Omega Harris and Dominic Artis were responsible for five of the mistakes that started the NAU spark.

UTEP was outrebounded by the smaller Lumberjacks in the opening period 22-13. Center Matt Willms was clocked in for 15 minutes and grabbed six boards for the Miners. The other starting big man, Kelvin Jones, was dealing with foul trouble all half when he picked up his second foul in the first six minutes of the contest. Floyd was forced to turn to Ivan Venegas, who has not played much this season.

When the second half was set to be played it was a back-and-forth affair from both sides but the Miners could never build up a large enough lead to hold. UTEP had a chance to tie the game up with 25 seconds remaining, but fell flat on their last possession—Harris’ game-tying attempt went in-and-out. Harris’ hot night of 22 points was not enough for UTEP to overcome the away team.

Senior point guard Dominic Artis stuffed the stat sheet, but seemed to run out of gas after his 36 minutes of action. Artis tallied up 11 points, 12 assists, and went turnover-free in the second period.

There were many areas of concern for Floyd’s crew, but the biggest might be the lack of support off the bench. UTEP’s bench was outscored 23-10, and only Trey Touchet and Deon Barrett added points coming in at relief.

“We don’t have a lot of depth, and we are not getting a great deal out of our bench right now. We’ve got guys playing more minutes that they should be playing. Every game has been a struggle with our bench. We’ll just have to see if we can get them better,” Floyd said. “The bench players need to step up in practice and gain the “trust-factor”.

There were seven lead changes and six times the scoreboard was tied up, but freshman Jones picked up a costly technical foul when a call did not go his way, which made the Miners’ hopes of completing the comeback more difficult than it had to be. Jones only played 14 minutes and left Floyd out of reliable options at the end of the contest after contributing six points and five rebounds. This hurt UTEP’s chances at winning the rebound battle which they eventually lost to the Lumberjacks by 14 boards, 38-24.

“We did not rebound the ball against an inferior sized team. The Lumberjacks out-boarded us by 14—credit them for their effort on the road,” Floyd said. “We didn’t close out our defensive possessions with rebounds at the end of it.”

This has been the worst start from a Miners team coached by Floyd, and he admits the struggle his team has endured so far.

“This is my most challenging coaching job by far; by far; by far,” Floyd said. “Nobody wants to win more than this coaching staff, so we are going to stay positive and we have to try and continue to grow this team, and they have to want to grow.”

The Miners will hope to fight off their slow season start when the WestStar Bank Invitational kicks off. UTEP will continue their home stand with Maryland Eastern Shore coming into town on Dec. 21.

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Men’s basketball loses sixth straight against Northern Arizona