UTEP overcame a sluggish first half to run away from a good Stephen F. Austin squad last night at the Don. The Lumberjacks entered the game having only lost to the Big 12's Texas Tech Red Raiders and Texas A&M Aggies. The pace of the first half was slowed by a slew of personal fouls and referee interruptions and UTEP led only 23-17 at the break. Unsurprisingly, 18 UTEP turnovers also helped keep SFA in the game until Randy Culpepper caught fire and helped UTEP put away the Lumberjacks. Here are my quick observations, bullet style:
- A New Starter: Gabe McCulley, who I deemed this squad's 'glue guy' earned the start in this one over veteran Jeremy Williams. Williams has had some nice games this season, notably an 18 point game in UTEP's home win against New Mexico State. That said, he looked a bit sluggish against Texas Tech. He still ended the game with more minutes than McCulley, but played the fewest of the season (23) overall.
- Making the Most; McCulley had a nice performance in his 21 minutes of action. He was 3/3 from the field and finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds. More than his stats, McCulley is a hustle guy, someone who runs the floor and plays aggressive defense.
- The UTEP Two-Step: Randy Culpepper had another monster game. He hit 50% of his shots (7/14) and finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. The highlight? Culpepper broke a poor, unsuspecting SFA defenders ankles on a killer-crossover late in the second half. Without Culpepper, this is a very close game down the stretch.
- Home Cooking? I'll take a little love from the refs any time at the Don. While the calls did go both ways (Christian Polk, Claude Britten, and John Bohannon each had 4 personal fouls), note that SFA finished with 27 personal fouls as compared to UTEP's 19. Amazingly for SFA, only guard Denzel Barnes fouled out.
- Claude Limited: As noted, fouls limited Claude Brittens action to only 8 minutes. When he was in the game, it was evident that Tim Floyd wanted to get Claude involved offensively in the post. But, when you have 4 personal fouls in 8 minutes, you're not going to be a big part of the game plan.
- Still Room for Improvement; John Bohannon earned 31 minutes of action but also struggled with four personal fouls. Bohannon had 6 rebounds - tied with Julyan Stone- to lead the Miners. Bohannon only attempted four shots, the flow of the game simply benefited the guards in this one.
- Off night for J? Julyan Stone had one of those very rare games where he had more turnovers (4) than assists (3). Stone did crash the boards and chip in 9 points.
- I'll Take It: Coming off a sluggish night on the free throw line against Texas Tech (under 56%), UTEP improved to 65.6% from the line. Christian Polk helped by going 5/6. Julyan Stone again struggled with a 4/9 performance from the line.
- Nice Crowd: The announced attendance for the game was a solid 7,782. Considering the opponent, the holiday shopping rush, and that schools out, that's a really nice crowd for a work night. On, to BYU!