UTEP continues their three game C-USA opening road swing in a place that is hard to win, Ruston, Louisiana to face a very talented Louisiana Tech squad.
LA Tech leads C-USA in scoring margin (+14.6 ppg), three-point field goal percentage defense (.302), assists (17.4 apg) and blocked shots (5.6 bpg). The Bulldogs are second in scoring defense (64.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.481) and field goal percentage defense (.399), and third in scoring offense (78.9 ppg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.3).
UTEP Head Coach Tim Floyd had a simpler way of describing LA Tech.
“Talent, talent, talent, length, talent, long guys that just change shots, affect shots, you get in the lane and they block shots,” Floyd said. “They’ve got great athleticism after they block shots. They’re going to have more possessions than we are because they probably have more playmakers than we have.
The Bulldogs are getting major contributions from returning senior forward Erik McCree who ranks in the top-20 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, and is averaging 17.3 points per game.
Guard Jacobi Boykins has been another solid contributor averaging 15 points per game, and is a volume 3-point shooter who went on a 12-for-20 streak from long distance in a two game stretch in early December.
The point guard matchup will be a good one with LA Tech continuing the tradition of having a solid point guard, this year it's a budding freshman who will be a C-USA star before he graduates.
Freshman DaQuan Bracy leads the conference in assist/turnover ratio, and is ninth nationally in that category. Bracy has dished out 15 assists in the past three games, and had a streak of five straight games with eight assists in December.
Seven foot center Joniah White is the conference's second leading shot blocker, leading the Bulldogs to block almost eight percent of their opponents' attempts so far this season.
UTEP just has not been able to do the little things that lead to winning, and if that struggle continues, UTEP will be in for a long night Thursday.
"We’re going to have to play one of those games where each possession is really, really important." Floyd said. "Making a free throw, you can’t miss a free throw. You’ve got to step in there and have a perfect possession. Not turn it over, use a little clock, because you may not get a second chance opportunity where they probably will.”
The Miners struggled around the rim once again against UTSA, and opponents are blocking 11.7 percent of UTEP's shot attempts, playing right into LA Tech's defensive strength.
Looking for a third producer behind Dominic Arits, and Omega Harris, Paul Thomas has averaged 8.2 points, and 6.2 rebounds in the past four games, showing major improvement, but Thomas has fouled out in three of those four games.
Matt Willms has also produced during that four game stretch, averaging 11.8 points per game, and 5.5 rebounds per game, posting two 16 point outings.
Thursday's road game is the second of three to open C-USA play, with the Miners looking for answers, and confidence with Southern Miss on deck Saturday.
“It’s probably not what the doctor ordered for the old Miners,” Floyd said. “But you can also view it as an opportunity if you can steal one or steal another one. But at some point, that will flip and you’ll have your share of games at home. “They all count, we viewed it with a fresh scope when we moved into [the conference schedule], that ‘OK, we’re like everybody else.’ But unfortunately now we’re 0-1."
Keys to keep things close
- Make layups/execute open floor chances
- Make Free throws
- Close out shooters
- Grab every loose ball/rebound
UTEP has played in some close games as of late, but have been unable to turn the winning corner.
LA Tech's personnel is a bad on-paper matchup for UTEP, and if the Miners don't execute the little things, it will get ugly.
UTEP will have to make shots, secure every 50/50, and not give away possessions to have a shot. LA Tech is long, talented, and will be a top four factor in the conference standings.
LA Tech by 15….