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Beyond The Box Score: Guard Play Saves The Day

It wasn't the perfect game, but UTEP's guards showed how they can impact a game in so many areas.


The guard play wasn't picture perfect for the entire forty minutes, but down the stretch of the second half run, the guard play between C.J. Cooper and Omega Harris was key in UTEP's down to the wire 77-76 win against New Mexico State last night.

Harris started the 18-10 UTEP swing that included bringing UTEP within ten to start the run with a jumper for two, then a huge corner trifecta that brought UTEP within five at 48-43 right at the 14:56 mark of the second half, and ultimately trimmed the Aggie lead to 52-50 after Earvin Morris split a pair of free throws with 12:30 left.

By time C.J Cooper drilled that huge pointer that pushed UTEP ahead for good with 4:44 left, UTEP had outscored NMSU 34-23 from start of the UTEP charge led by that Harris' jumper that got the Miners going on offense.

One slashed and scored, one facilitated.

Harris finished with 13 points, and gave Daniel Mullings, and D.K. Eldridge fits in trying to keep up with his quickness on the press break, and also took away NMSU's guard penetration on the other end.

Cooper finished with only four points, and only attempted two tries from the field, but had seven assists, and was the Miners rock of poise down the stretch.  Cooper pressured and stopped ball the entire second half, and played like a gritty vet on both ends of the floor.

UTEP has worked on the situation that came about when Cedrick Lang sank two free throws to put UTEP up 73-67.

Up six in the second half with under three minutes left, and you have the other team on the ropes, with Harris and Cooper manning the guard spots.

One could consider this situation as a work in progress, after a Cooper's lone mistake of the game helped NMSU finish the game on a 7-2 run.  But what both brought on both ends of the floor during important stretches of the game won't show up in the final box score, poise, smart aggressive defense in a tightly called game, and well I guess their clutch buckets that got the run going will show up there.

When looking at Omega's game it will be the little things he brings to the table that will lead to wins for this team.

His tip in off a Matt Willms missed look proved to be one of the biggest plays for UTEP in final minute that pushed UTEP to a late 77-73 lead with 18 seconds left.

Although Eldridge came back on the next sequence and drilled a triple from the corner to bring the Aggies back within a 77-76 grasp with eleven seconds left.

The two biggest free throws so far in Harris' young career ended in a pair of misses, but the freshman didn't hang his head, he got back on D.

Daniel Mullings is one of the best open floor players in the country, but Harris smartly forced what could have been a easy look from less than 15 feet, into a tough twisting, but decently angled look that hit all rim, and the Miners snapped their three game Aggie losing skid.

Scoring 20-plus points, or having a gaudy assist number game is proving to be not necessarily needed from a UTEP guard, though that capability is certainly there between the both of them, along Earvin Morris and Lew Stallworth.

Both Coop, and Omega effected the game and the UTEP run by cutting off the driver on defense, their ability to get the other three in offense at a frantic pace, and the ability to execute clutch plays is what UTEP's guards have to bring each night.

Harris and Cooper not only played great with the ball in their hands, they frustrated Braxton Huggins, and Eldridge in the second half with relentless pressure, and poise, while Julian Washburn shut down Mullings.

Got a chance to talk to Harris after his first dance in the Battle of I-10.

What what is like playing in the Don tonight?

It was wonderful, I tried to tune it out but once it got real loud in there I started to hear it and started to understand that we got to stay calm, and stay ready and just come out on top and win this game.

Second game of your career going up against NMSU, talk about what you were feeling out there?

It wasn't really a rivalry to me yet, but now it is. I'm glad that we came out on top, it really helped us a lot of tonight, we came together. We fought all the way back and came out on top, and I really look up to Vince. He was talking to me the whole game, he was like bro this what we need from you. So we just really fought back and came out on top.

What were your first thoughts when coach told you that you would get the start today?

I was just like okay, I'm just going to go out there and start the game off right.  I know they have been here longer, and I know they know the plays, and they know who they are going against, and they know how to go out there and start the game. But he just wanted to see what we were capable of, and we went out there and did what we were supposed to do sustain the game.

Talk about that three pointer during the run, and what did that do for yourself and the team?

It gave us a lot of momentum because we really needed that. We were down by I don't even remember how much, but when I hit it I looked at scoreboard and saw that it cut the lead down, and I was like we are still in this game and we need to come out.

Talk about that last play defending Mullings, was the thought in your mind to just not foul right there?

Yeah I could see him forcing his body into me, and he wanted to get fouled. But I was like nah I can't foul you, because we were only up one.  It was my fault because I missed the two free throws, but I had to get back and make a stop to help us with the game.

What did that second half do for your confidence going forward?

Confidence just went through the roof tonight I'll tell you that right now. First game I was kinda nervous and I really wasn't ready for it, but I tried to stay calm, and stay solid through out the game. But now I'm starting to see what I'm going against so I just can go play my game.

How has coached drilled playing with poise during the preseason practices?

Yeah he knows if I just go, I just go, so he tells me to calm down sometimes.