Vince Hunter scored 14 points and had a career high 16 rebounds, including 8 on the offensive end as he led the Miners to a 65-52 victory over the Washington St. Cougars Friday night.
The Miners opened up with the first 6 points of the game, and held the Cougars scoreless for the first four minutes, but they couldn't capitalize on multiple opportunities and quickly let Washington St. tie the game up two minutes later.
UTEP would never let the Cougs get out in front though, and would quickly push their lead back out to 5 following an Earvin Morris made three with 12:31 left in the first 20 minutes.
The Miners would keep Washington State at bay, and would eventually hold as large as a 13 point lead at 29-16 before taking a 32-26 lead into the locker rooms.
The second half started with the Miners' bigs scoring their first 8 points, but Washington State would stay within striking distance, still trailing by just 6 following an Ike Iroegbu three ball with 11:03 left in the game.
Five straight points, including a big three by freshman Omega Harris, stretched the lead back out to double digits, and the Miners wouldn't look back from there.
By the five minute mark, UTEP would enjoy a 14 point lead, and despite Washington State getting it back to 9 with 1:39 left, 4 straight free throws by C.J. Cooper and Julian Washburn stretched the lead back to the winning margin of 13. In the end, the Miners walked away with the 65-52 victory.
Vince Hunter led the Miners with 14 points and 16 rebounds, Earvin Morris had 13 points on 5-10 shooting, and C.J. Cooper chipped in with 11 points, 5 assists, and a couple of boards.
DaVonte Lacy, who had a couple late threes down the stretch, led Washington State with 15 points and 7 rebounds but shot just 3-12 from the field. Ike Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson finished with 10 points apiece, with Hawkinson also hauling in 11 rebounds.
The Miners finished the night shooting just 34.9% from the field, and 65.4% from the free throw line. Washington State also struggled shooting the ball, finishing 35.2% from the field and just 28.6% from behind the arc.
UTEP outrebounded the Cougars 46 to 37, including a 17 to 7 advantage on the offensive end, while also forcing WSU into 21 turnovers, compared to 14 for the Miners.
Coach Floyd had this to say following the game:
"The great Don Haskins use to say, you've got a chance to have a great team if you can shoot 35% and win. It means you're doing other things. That you're rebounding; which we did. It means that you're defending; which we did. It means you're getting to the free throw line; which we did. He wouldn't have liked our turnovers tonight."
Truth be told, it was a very sloppy game for the Miners. But, just like Coach Floyd said, if you can play as poorly as they did tonight, and still win by double digits, it means you're doing a lot of other things right.
Turnovers, missed free throws, missed layups, and other mistakes normally can cost you a game. But, this team simply played great defense, and never allowed Washington State to any real opportunity at coming away with the win.
Senior Julian Washburn, who had an off night shooting, knows the Miners must play better, especially with an upcoming game against rival New Mexico State looming next Saturday.
"I didn't shoot the ball so well, but I'm happy we got the win against a PAC-12 team. We have to play much better next weekend against a New Mexico State team that beat us two times last year. I think our defense can get a little better, but I think we need to take better shots and move the ball more. If we can do those things we'll be a complete team."
This team definitely has the opportunity to do great things. You could flashes of the possibilities at times. But, it will take a much better performance all the way around. Defense will get it done more often than not, but you still have to put the ball in the basket.
Still though, there is a ton of promise for this team, not just from those we've known and seen, but from other unknowns as well like Earvin Morris and Omega Harris.
Morris, not only hit some big shots, he showed he too could be a shutdown defender, and even found himself locked up against Washington State's best player, Davonte Lacy, down the stretch of the game.
Omega Harris, who didn't have a great impact on the game, did show some flashes of just his raw talent and ability. He most definitely, will be one to keep an eye on this year and for the entirety of his career.
Again, much promise from this Miner team. They've just got to tie up some loose ends. We'll write it off to being first game jitters, but they'll have to shake them off before the NMSU game next week, and the Wooden Legacy Tournament that follows.
The Miners will next welcome New Mexico State into the Don Haskins Center a week from tomorrow. Tipoff for that game is slate for 7:00 p.m. MT.
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