The Miners entered their season opener against Oral Roberts with a few questions yet to be answered. They used that season opener to answer those questions emphatically, downing the Golden Eagles 69-49 in front of an announced crowd of 8,564.
The game started slow, as the Miners struggled to find their shot early on. Oral Roberts jumped out to a 5-0 lead as UTEP missed their first four shots of the game. But, little by little, the Miners came alive. The two teams traded blows for much of the first half, but it was the Miners who held a 31-28 advantage as the two teams headed to the locker rooms.
The second twenty minutes started much like the first half had gone, with the two teams trading leads for the first 6 minutes. However, from there the Miners exploded, using a 26-5 run to turn a 39-38 lead into a 63-43 blowout.
The spark of the run came from a somewhat unexpected source in freshman forward Chris Washburn Jr. He scored 11 of his 14 points during that run, and also made a couple key plays on the defensive end as well. But, in reality it was a total team effort.
The Miners were able to play great, unselfish, team basketball, and it showed. Not only in the final score, but in the stats as well. As a team, they committed only 7 turnovers, while forcing the Golden Eagles into 20 miscues. They also shot 46.9% from the field, while holding Oral Roberts to 37.5%, and only 49 points.
Coach Floyd had this to say following the win:
"We got a lot of great interior post defense out of Cedrick and John, and the freshman Chris Washburn was outstanding. We had seven turnovers in an opener, and that's really, really encouraging. It means we're getting shots on the board and we're giving ourselves a chance to score."
Junior center John Bohannon led the way for the Miners with 17 points, and also had 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. The aforementioned Chris Washburn Jr., who came off the bench, finished with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block.
Sophomore guard/forward Julian Washburn finished the night with a quiet 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals, and sophomore Jalen Raglend, who seems to have earned a starting spot, was productive with 10 points on 5-9 shooting.
Sophomore forward Cedrick Lang was the leading rebounder for the Miners with 6, but was only able to put 2 points. Senior point guard Jacques Streeter finished the night with 7 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds, and C.J. Cooper finished up with 4 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal.
Oral Roberts was led senior guard Warren Niles, who finished the game with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. Junior guard/forward Shawn Glover finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, and senior center Damen Bell-Holter finished the night with 8 points and 12 boards.
The win was a great one for the Miners, who started off the season with a win for the first time since they dropped Texas Southern 89-70 in the 2009-10 campaign. But, the slate will not be getting any easier. They will be in action again next Thursday as they meet #12 Arizona in Tucson.
After that, they will head to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic where they open up against Oklahoma on the 22nd, and will then face either #21 Gonzaga or Clemson on the 23rd.
Again, the win was a great start to an intriguing season, and brings even more optimism to an already ecstatic fan base. But, this is only the beginning. It is only one step in a long journey. Its time to get back to work, and stay focused on the goal these guys set for themselves long before they took floor for the season opener Friday night.
"We understand that we've got to get better...We've got a schedule coming up that's going to show us how to improve. Nobody in the United States is going to play a tougher stretch than we're getting ready to play for the next two weeks, maybe three weeks, maybe a month. So we just have to continue to play inspired and move the ball and take care of it."