Thursday night's matchup between UTEP and Eastern New Mexico featured one team with plenty of experience, versus another with practically none. Unfortunately for us, the Miners were the one with little experience. The Miners led early on and had a four point lead at 16-12 with about 12 minutes left in the first half. That was the biggest lead they'd enjoy all night.
Eastern New Mexico ended the first half on a 28-16 run to take a 40-32 lead into the locker rooms. The second half started much the way the first half ended, and suddenly the Greyhounds opened up a 22 point lead at 58-36. The Miners would make a late run, but could never get within 11 points, and wound up losing the game 75-64.
Eastern New Mexico was led by Curtis Wilkinson who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Stefan Mirabel also chipped in with 16 points, and both Tralyn Harden and Maurice McGee finished with 14 points a piece. The Miners were led by Cedrick Lang who finished the night with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Mike Perez had 11 points on only 4-6 shooting, and Julian Washburn and Darius Nelson both finished with 9 points.
I'll start this portion off by saying two things. First, this is obviously not the way you want or expect to start the season off. But second, if you were at the game you might realize that we shouldn't really read too much into the final score. For those of you that weren't able to make it to the game, here's why.
It was pretty obvious that Coach Floyd's main agenda was not to win that basketball game. I'm not saying he didn't want to, but he was far more concerned with finding out where each and every individual player stood. That meant getting everyone plenty of minutes.
In order to do that, Coach Floyd used two groups of five that were literally subbed in every 5 minutes in the first half, and then alternated 10 minutes in the second half. Coach never made an individual sub. It was always five at a time, and always at the predetermined time. No matter what was going on, who was playing well, or what five could've possibly won the game for us.
Now all that said, this team is extremely young and raw. Even though I feel CTF could've easily coached them to a 10 or 15 point win, they couldn't have done it on their own. There was sloppy play, bad passes, poor shots, and at times terrible offense. But, at times there were also flashes of excellence, tough hard nosed defense, and all around hustle.
It deserves to be mentioned that John Bohannon and Gabe McCulley did not play. Obviously, McCulley is still recovering from knee surgery and will likely be out the majority of the next two months. Bohannon, who has been suspended for two games for breaking team rules, should be ready to return for the season opener.
Both those guys will help this team out greatly, and as the younger guys grow and improve the results will come. Of the newcomers, Cedrick Lang and Julian Washburn impressed the most. Lang, a 6'9 freshman from Sioux Falls, SD, plays extremely tough and physical. He also just knows how to go get the ball when its loose or coming off the boards, and you just can't teach that. He finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Washburn, a 6'7 freshman G/F from Duncanville, TX, showed some flashes throughout the game as well. His raw talent was apparent, but it also seemed his frustrations came out as the Miners trailed. At times he wanted to take the game over, and at this point it wasn't exactly what we needed. Either way, the kid is going to be a star. He finished with 9 points on 4-11 shooting, and 5 rebounds.
Other players who showed some good signs were junior transfer Jacques Streeter, D'Von Campbell, and Darius Nelson. Of the newcomers, Streeter certainly looked the most comfortable out there. He did make a mistake or two, but he will be relied on to be that floor general especially early on in the season.
D'Von Campbell, a freshman PG from Bowie HS in Arlington, seemed to find himself a little more as the game went on. He should mature into a nice point. Darius Nelson, who lit up the scoreboards in high school in Sacramento, had a couple buckets for the Miners, but more importantly knocked down 5 of 6 free throws.
This team will have to rely heavily on players like Mike Perez, John Bohannon, and Gabe McCulley when he becomes available. Perez is going to have to become that scorer we know he can be, and Bohannon has to play smart, physical, and be that anchor for us down low. McCulley is going to have to be that all around leader. As the lone senior, he'll be expected to do a little of everything.
If you're still reading this, I apologize for it being so long. I promise its almost over. I'll start wrapping this up by saying that there will likely be a ton of negativity spoken about this team, especially early on in the season, but don't buy into it. As Miner fans, we were extremely blessed in recent years to have such a great group of players that provided us with 25 wins in back to back seasons.
That's not going to happen this year, but that doesn't mean these guys won't be good. In fact, they may be even better than the group we just said goodbye to. It's just going to take some time. I wouldn't expect to be vying for an NCAA tournament bid this year, but that doesn't mean we won't experience some success. Stay true to our colors, and keep supporting our school. The wins will come...in bunches.
***I realize its extremely early to project something like this, but from what I saw last night here's my starting five.
1. Jacques Streeter
2. Mike Perez
3. Julian Washburn
4. Cedrick Lang
5. John Bohannon
Gabe McCulley will take his starting role back once he returns, but let it be known that Lang is certainly good enough to start on this team.