Hooper comes up big
After a quiet night on Friday, and a rough start on Sunday, Hooper Vint came up huge in the final five minutes on Sunday to help UTEP hold off North Texas.
Vint scored eight points in the final four minutes on Sunday, and notched his second double-double of the week with 12 rebounds to go along with 20 points.
"It was a tough start." Vint said. "Maybe I've had a bad couple of games in the last two, and I just felt like I finally got my rhythm, and started playing a lot better and that's going to carry over for the rest of conference play. "
Vint found himself in foul trouble Friday night against Rice, and was unable to find that rhythm in just 17 minutes against the Owls.
"He wasn't as aggressive as he needs to be, and I though he got that way." Tim Floyd said of Vint's play on Sunday. "He caught it; he made better decisions on his kicks out of the post. I thought he was at the rim against a freshman which he should have been. He did a nice job"
Playing 31 minutes against North Texas, Vint shot 8-of-15 from the field, and finishing with 20 points, and averaged 9.3 rebounds per game in three games last week.
Terry Winn provides steady production
One of the most positive performances over the weekend was the consistent play of Terry Winn.
Winn posted back-to-back eight rebound efforts to open conference play, and is averaging 6.8 rebounds in his last eight games
"We've been practicing hard working on that screen and roll defense." Winn said of his improvement on both ends of the floor. "Just being on the floor, taking control of my defense, and seeing stuff that most freshmen don't see when they first come in. I red-shirted so I saw a lot of stuff on the sidelines that have helped me this year."
"Last season gave me a chance to step back and look at the game from a different perspective," Winn said. "I feel like I've gotten better on defense and in some other aspects of the game. But I'm still growing, still learning."
Winn's focus is clearly on the defensive end, paying extra attention to the scouting report to help come up with some big plays over the weekend.
Rice ran a backdoor play intending on isolating Winn on the block but Winn's attention to the scouting report turned the play into a defensive stop.
"Actually that backdoor play we worked on it in practice." Winn said. "I just stepped over and made the block something I worked on it in practice."
Being a defensive enforcer is something Winn is starting to take great pride in, and he is starting to see improvement in UTEP's screen and roll coverage.
"As far as defense wise our screen and roll coverage is good right now." Winn added. "We need to keep working on that. Talking on defense, making sure people are in stances, talking hands off. When you talk on defense you play hard"
Playing hard until the final play is also something Winn displayed this weekend.
When asked about his block on Andrew Drone to seal Friday's first conference win, Winn offered up a simple explanation on how the final play unfolded.
"It's not little boy basketball." Winn said with a smile. "He wanted a foul, but we're not doing that."
Coming into to Sunday's game, North Texas was one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the nation, and after Sunday those percentages will continue to dip or hold steady.
With 6:12 left in the first half, Christian Romine subbed in for Hooper Vint.
Tim Floyd clearly gave Romine the foul signal from the bench as the teams lined up for a Lee Moore free throw.
Romine fouled Rickey Brice Jr. off the ball on the inbound who missed the front end of a 1&1 but North Texas got the offensive rebound and scored.
So Vint came back into the game, Earvin Morris then went to the free throw line, and in came Romine for Vint again to foul Brice Jr. would actually missed the front end again, as UTEP secured the board.
Then Tony Benford took out Brice Jr., and the hack-a-thon would stop until late in the second half.
In the second half Tevin Caldwell fouled Jeremy Combs and Brice Jr in a 20 second span inside the three minute mark of the second half, and then Caldwell fouled Combs again a minute later as UTEP was struggling to slow down the Mean Green in the half court.
So after the game this is how Tim Floyd explained the foul spree.
"We never intentional fouled." Floyd said. "Our guys were overzealous, over aggressive. But we did not intentional foul. We wouldn't do that. Tevin checked in and had too much energy."
Brice Jr. is a 35 percent foul shooter, and Combs is shooting 50 percent from the charity stripe this season.
"They got us with that," North Texas coach Tony Benford said of UTEP's late tactics. "We've got to make those free throws. If we make those free throws, we're right there."
Floyd still played coy when asked again about those numbers and the strategy
"We were fortunate that when we were overzealous that they missed the free throws." Floyd said.
Then he was asked about North Texas' free throw numbers. "Not until you said it, I never thought about it. I never look at the stat sheets"
Finding the freshmen minutes
One of the more interesting rotation questions was how would UTEP rotate their reserve trio of freshman big men once conference play started.
Floyd shortened up the bench as expected, with Brodricks Jones seeing the most minutes out of UTEP's three freshman big's.
"The freshmen continue to struggle a little bit coming off the bench." Floyd said. "We're going to keep working with them, and eventually they're going to get it. We're going to figure it out; we're going to figure out how to maximize who they are right now at this stage of their career."
"All three of them, Paul Thomas, Christian Romine, and Buddha have played five times the amount of minutes that Hooper played as a freshman and as a sophomore. We just have to be patient, they have to grow, they have to learn as Hooper as done." Floyd continued.
Finding someone to replace early foul trouble by Vint or Winn, and basic rotation to give both some rest is what Floyd is looking for, and will continue to tinker with.
60X2 approach finally executed.
One of the main defensive principles UTEP tries to execute is Floyd's 60X2 theory which was finally executed this weekend.
It started on Friday as both Marcus Evans and Egor Koulechov were a combined 7-of-23 from the field, and held way below their scoring averages thanks to efforts from Omega Harris, and Dominic Artis.
Jeremy Combs did have 20 points on Sunday against UTEP, but the focus was on Deckie Johnson, and J-Mychal Reese who were a combined 8-of-28 from the field on Sunday. Reese did have 17 points, but like Floyd said he had to earn those.
"We did a nice job, now in back-to-back games on the 60X2 theory." Floyd said. "Really pleased at our guys Omega, and Dominic Artis for the most part who took that on and did a great job. So that was a nice deal."
While the rebounding issues continue, holding down the other team's top scorers is a nice consolation prize when you're crushed on the boards, especially when you pick up back-to-back wins.
UAB-----The Blazers have won eight in a row, and shut down Middle Tennessee to open C-USA play with a win. Look for the Blazers to continue their hot stretch into conference play, they simply wore down on MTSU and have the guard play to make another run.
FIU----Adrian Diaz collected his sixth double-double of the seasn as FIU ran FAU out of the gym on Sunday. Diaz is a legit force, leading a sleeper in FIU.
UTSA----The Runners hit the C-USA win column and snapped a 3-game losing skid holding off Rice 85-80 on Sunday. Christian Wilson scored 23 points on Sunday, but the Roadrunners still almost blew a double digit lead for the second straight game.
LA Tech----The Bulldogs quietly rolled Southern Miss. on Saturday. Erik McCree, and Alex Hamilton continue to shine as the league's top duo leading the Dawgs on a four game win streak.
Rice----The Owls came in to conference play with some momentum, but came up short on the road to start 0-2. The injuries, and lack of depth may start creeping in on the scrappy Owls.
WKU----The Toppers were blown out by Marshall to open C-USA play in the surprise outcome of the week. They looked like a team who could compete for a top-four spot based off a decent OOC start, but Ray Harper will have to make some adjustments to avoid a below .500 start as they host the Florida schools next week.
This week sees some key match ups in the early going, two of which involve UTEP as they have the toughest slate this coming weekend.
UTEP and Middle Tennessee meet on Thursday, while Old Dominion and LA Tech also hook up pitting four of the five possible C-USA contenders in head-to-head battles on Thursday night.
Saturday UTEP visits UAB in another possible game of the week matchup, and the sleeper game of the week could be Saturday's FIU at Marshall game.