On a night when the temperatures were said to drop below freezing, so did UTEP's second half shooting. New UTEP Coach Tim Floyd began the new era with a 66-61 loss versus the University of Pacific Tigers. Miner Orangeville was great as this was the first opening day sellout since 1986, and most got to see the unveiling of the Conference championship and NCAA banners.
The first half was a decent half for the Miners. Although the Tigers were able to keep it close for most of the half, the Miners opened up the lead to 11 by intermission. Unfortunately, once the whistle blew to start the second half the Miners were nowhere to be found. The solid defense that had forced Pacific into many contested threes in the first 20 minutes, turned into some lapses in concentration that allowed the Tigers open threes in the second twenty. And, the near 50% shooting for the Miners in the first half turned to an ice cold 28% in the second.
Overall this wasn't a bad performance. Yes, UTEP lost the game. But, in reality, if we could have knocked down some shots in that second half we would have easily won that game by 15-20 points. They just simply would not fall. It was a bad time to go cold as Pacific knocked down 8-13 threes in the final twenty minutes, and made 11 for the game.
Randy Culpepper led the way for the Miners scoring 13 points on the night. Julyan Stone had a solid game scoring 12 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists, and grabbing 3 steals. Jeremy Williams put up 9 points while Christian Polk and Claude Britten each had 8. Claude seemed to make the only baskets there in the second half as he kept us in it for a stretch. On the Tigers side, Senior Sam Willard put up 23 points and 11 rebounds. Jose Rivera knocked down some big shots and tallied 17 points.
The Tigers quickly trimmed the Miners 11 point lead to open the final half, and never looked back. It seemed as though the Miners trailed for much of the final 20 minutes. A three pointer by Pacific's Jose Rivera in the final 2:30 stretched the Tiger's lead to 4, and the Miners just couldn't knock down the shots to overcome the small deficit. Even down the stretch, with a 5 point lead, the Tigers missed three front ends of a 1 and 1, but the Miners could do nothing to capitalize. The lead stayed at 5 and the with Julyan Stone's missed three at the final buzzer the Miner's lost 66-61.
The good news. Tim Floyd warned us of this. He knows that his teams are notorious for making slow starts. Naturally, it will take some time for this team to get accustomed to the new offenses, defenses, and just the overall style of play. The Miners didn't look bad, and showed a lot of promise. The defense was solid in the first half and just needed to be tightened a little in the second. The offense was running smooth in the first half, and just was running in the second. It happens. We just went cold and unfortunately there isn't much you can do. Just have to get back to work and get ready for the next game. As coach Floyd said in post game: "We'll get better, We'll get better".
That next game happens to be Sunday versus Mercer in the opening round of the Legends Classic. The game will be at 12 noon and as always carried by the voice of the Miners John Teicher on 92.3 The Fox. As we return back to El Paso from Miner Orangeville, I ask you not to get discouraged. Continue to support the Miners as you did Friday night. This team will come around, it's only a matter of time.