UTEP men’s basketball opens season with big win

Jason Green, Contributor

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For the second season in a row, the UTEP men’s basketball team opened the regular season against Louisiana College. Also for the second season in a row, the visiting Wildcats were routed by the Miners—this year by a final score of 100-50.

From the outset, the Wildcats appeared to be in over their heads as UTEP sprinted out to a 7-0 lead before the first timeout was called. Senior guard Omega Harris opened the scoring with a layup, followed by junior forward Paul Thomas’ layup, freshman point guard Evan Gilyard’s free throw and senior center Matt Willms’ layup.

Floyd was impressed by his young team in almost every facet of the game.

“We like our athleticism, which is improved. Our ability to pass the ball, which we think is improved,” said Floyd following his team’s decisive victory in front of an exuberant Don Haskins Center crowd. “We think we’re a little better shooting team than we’ve been and we’re a little more versatile.”

The Miners’ versatility was on display with eleven players logging minutes, but not until all five starters had scored – which meant waiting on graduate transfer guard Keith Frazier just a little longer.

With the score already at 11-0 and Frazier and Harris had just missed three-pointers, a steal by Thomas led to an Omega Harris lob to a streaking Frazier for an emphatic alley-oop slam that brought those who had tired of “standing for defense” – as is the UTEP tradition – back to their feet. Willms had an excellent view of the play as the lob soared over his head prior to finding Frazier.

“I thought (Harris) was passing to me and I thought it was just an awful pass,” said the seven-foot Willms at his locker following the game. “It went flying over my head and I was like, ‘what are you doing’ and I look back and see (Frazier) flying in the air for a dunk. Then I was like, ‘OK, well I guess that was a good read.’”

Frazier found his groove following the alley-oop and ended the night one rebound short of a double-double – 13 points and nine rebounds. Frazier was far from the only UTEP player in double figures, however. Thomas, Willms, Harris, freshman forward Trey Wade and freshman guard Isiah Osborne all finished with double-digit points on the way to UTEP’s 31st 100-point game in school history.

Thomas echoed his head coach following the game when asked about the 100-point effort. The scoring is nice, but in the house that “The Bear” built, it’s all about defense.

“We know that when we get defensive stops, that the scoring’s just going to come naturally,” said Thomas. “We’re not ever worried too much about scoring.”

The Wildcats, on the other hand, may have been a little worried about scoring – in the first half, at least.

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During a 32-0 opening UTEP run, Louisiana College players missed three free throws, a breakaway layup and had a breakaway layup blocked from behind when Harris sprinted down the court to recover from having the ball stolen away.

By the time that freshman guard Lashard Powell made a three-pointer to make the score 32-3 with 6:29 in the first half, those still left “standing for defense” sent up a sarcastic round of applause for the visiting team.

“They were so tight, those kids,” Floyd said. “You almost got to the point where you wanted them to make one just to get their heads up a little bit.”

At halftime, the Miners led 48-16, but there was still plenty left to accomplish for Floyd and his young Miners.

“We’ve got six new guys and those guys need to understand that every minute they’re getting is critical and important,” Floyd said. “That’s the reason that we didn’t go to some of our walk-ons late.”

Osborne – who came off the bench and is one of those “new guys” – ended the night with 17 points. The most for either team. Frazier – another “new guy” – led both teams in minutes, with 27.

Floyd will spend all season working with his unprecedented freshman class and there may be up’s and down’s, but on opening night the “new guys” and the same old ones put on a show for the record books.

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