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Miner men finding their feet on defense and in the C-USA standings

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The secret is out: the UTEP men’s basketball team has continued to make waves after winning seven of their last nine games. Stats continue to show the improvement that the team has made throughout the season, but what has gone unnoticed is the defensive improvement the Miners made during the midpoint of their Conference USA schedule.

Last year the Miners had one of the worst defenses that head coach Tim Floyd has ever coached. They scored an average of 77.4 points per game, while they allowed 74.9 points a game, and finished with a +2.5 scoring margin.

Basically, Floyd had a score-more-than-the-other-team mentality for the 2015-16 season.

After losing key scorers such as Earvin Morris and Lee Moore from the previous year, UTEP has struggled to put up the same scoring numbers this season.

The solution came midway into this season after Floyd had been stressing over and over about how much his defense needed to improve during the 12-game losing streak. Currently, the Miners rank among the five worst in the conference for scoring, falling in at 10th with 68.1 points per game.

If a team cannot put up scoring numbers, they have to make up for it on defense for any hope at landing some wins. That is precisely what the Miners did. Currently, the Miners rank 4th in C-USA in scoring defense and are allowing 68.4 points per game.

One of the key components of their defensive attack has been their box-and-one defense. Floyd usually administers a man-to-man defense throughout the better half of the first period, where players size up with their respective player on the opposite team.

Then, Floyd calls for the box-and-one defense. The concept of the defense is simple: four of the players on the court play an aggressive 2-2 zone defense, where two big men are guarding down by the basket, while two of the guards are fighting off the top of the key. That’s where the “one,” in box-and-one comes in. While the other four players continue to play the zone defense, the remaining defender keys on the opposing team’s best scorer and attempts to take him out of the game.

Sometimes it is senior guard Dominic Artis; other times is junior guard Omega Harris. No matter who it is, the defender follows the focused player and shadows him wherever he may go. It basically takes out both players from action and forces the opposing team to resort to another solution.

The Miners have shut down some of the conference’s best scorers while implementing this new defense in their system. In the Miners’ impressive 91-68 win over third-place Marshall, UTEP shut down the Thundering Herd’s no. 1 and no. 2 scorers, Jon Elmore and Ryan Taylor.

Elmore, who leads C-USA in scoring with 20 points per game, was held to 11, while Browning, who ranks 10th in the league, only scored three points against the Miners. Other top scorers around the league, such as Jeff Beverly from UTSA (ninth in C-USA with 16.4 ppg), Giddy Potts of Middle Tennessee (12th in C-USA with 15.3 ppg) and Jacobi Boykins of LA Tech (14th in C-USA with 14.3 ppg) were all held to nine points or fewer against the Miners in their respective matchups.

Two of the Miners’ key defenders Artis and Harris have aided UTEP immensely on defense. Artis currently ranks second in the league in steals, averaging 2.0 per game, and Harris ranks 10th in steals per game, averaging 1.3.

Coming up for the Miners, they will be tested on the road for the next four games. This week they will square up against North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 16, and Rice on Saturday, Feb. 18. Floyd has high hopes on their road stretch.

“To our kids’ credit, they’re improved in all areas–defensive rebounding, handling the ball, and our defensive field goal percentage are numbers that we feel we can take on the road with us,” Floyd said. “That’s what we mean by ‘Boys can win at home, it takes men to win on the road.’  We have to go guard on the road and we are going to play teams that are very, very capable of beating us.  It will be another great test.”

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About the Contributor
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
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Miner men finding their feet on defense and in the C-USA standings