There’s that word again; encouraging. We used it a few times early in the season, and despite everything that has happened over the last 3-4 weeks, here we are using it again.
The truth is last night’s loss at New Mexico was a tough one to swallow. Yes the Miners were heavy underdogs going into The Pit, and yes we started poorly, falling behind by 21 early, but this was a game we should’ve won.
In any case, the Miners showed a lot of heart and fight last night. Not to mention, we learned a ton about some of our younger players, namely Deon Barrett, but even Kelvin Jones.
Consider this: The Pit is a place where the home team loses less than 18% percent of the time they play. Needless to say, its a tough place to find a win.
Sure, this isn’t the best New Mexico team we’ve seen in recent years, and yes, they were without their top player, but the Miners were coming off of back to back home losses, by double digits, to double directional schools.
Most Miner fans, understandably, and even Vegas figured this thing would be a blowout. And early on, it looked like we were headed for a very long night.
But, this team stayed strong, didn’t lose focus, and fought their way back to within 8 at the half. That in and of itself was a huge accomplishment, but they weren’t done yet.
New Mexico would pushed their lead back out to 13 early in the 2nd, but again, the Miners would fight their way back. This time though, it was the breakout of freshman guard Deon Barrett, and what a performance it was.
Barrett, almost single handedly, brought UTEP back from that deficit. Perhaps what was most impressive is that Barrett had played just two minutes in the first half, and came in cold after Omega Harris hobbled over to the sideline.
Almost immediately, Deon Barrett found the ball in his hands, about 2 feet beyond the arc, and without hesitation let it fly. Pure. That was just the start, but it set the tone for the comeback.
Just about four minutes later, the freshman was 4-4 from three, and the Miners had turned a 13 point deficit into a one point lead. He would hit his first six threes overall, and finish the night 8-9 from the field for a game high 25 points.
You just can’t say enough about the effort from Barrett, as well as Omega Harris and Dominic Artis. Harris had scored 14 straight for the Miners at one point in the first half, and Artis had a stretch late in the first where he scored 13 of 15.
In the end, the Miners would find themselves ahead by four with five to play, and still ahead by one in the closing seconds, but that off balanced jumper by Elijah Brown found a home, and the Miners fell. But despite that, the final score does not undermine the fight and intensity this team played with.
Despite the early drought, this may have been the most complete performance we’ve seen from this Miner team. And, that offers a bit of hope, or encouragement if you will, that maybe, just maybe this team can find itself being competitive in Conference USA.
Tim Floyd, by all accounts, is still on the fans’ hot seat, if no other one, but at least he showed last night that he can still get his team, and a short handed team, ready to play in an extremely hostile environment. That has to count for something.
The Miners will now return home to play New Mexico State next Tuesday. We’ll see if they’re able to find that same level of effort and intensity against the Aggies, because they’ll need it if they’re going to find a win in that one.