Keith Frazier scored eight of his 13 points in a 32-0 run to start the game, as UTEP made quick work of Louisiana College, 100-50, in the 2017-18 season opener on Friday at the Haskins Center.
“Nice way to kick off the season with a win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a non-conference win at our place. I thought our kids were better defensively early than we were until like January of last year. We like our athleticism, which is improved. We like our ability to pass the ball, which we think is improved. We think we’re a little better shooting team than we’ve been. And we’re more versatile. We’ve got guys who can play multiple positions.”
Frazier had a near double-double with nine rebounds and also dished out four assists in 27 minutes. He was one of six Miners in double-figure scoring as Isiah Osborne collected 17 points, Paul Thomas had 16 points and eight rebounds, Omega Harris and Matt Willms chipped in with 12 points each and Trey Wade scored 10. The Miners (1-0) shot 57.8 percent from the field and outrebounded the Division III Wildcats 50-31. UTEP also scored 26 points off 19 turnovers by Louisiana College.
The Wildcats didn’t score until 6:29 remaining in the first half, when Lashard Powell’s three-pointer made it 32-3. The Miners led 37-3 with four minutes left in the half and 48-16 at the break following a late flurry by Louisiana College.
UTEP opened the second half with an 11-0 run to push its lead to 59-16. The 50-point advantage at the final buzzer matched the Miners’ largest of the night.
The Miners scored 100 points for the third time in a season opener. The 1988-89 and 2003-04 squads both tipped off their seasons by scoring 109 points against Fort Lewis and UT-Permian Basin, respectively.
All 11 UTEP scholarship players saw action as Frazier led the way with his 27 minutes.
“We’re pleased that we were able to get our young guys some more quality minutes,” Floyd said. “I think sometimes people lose sight of that early in the season with schedules. It was really important for Tirus Smith to be out there tonight for the minutes that he got based on the two previous exhibition games. We love all of our new guys. We really think that they can all play. We’re excited about this team.”
Newcomers accounted for a total of 56 points. Osborne shot 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from three. Wade hit a couple of triples. Smith had nine points, five rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes. Evan Gilyard scored seven points and dished out six assists with three steals. Kobe Magee tallied four assists and no turnovers in 17 minutes.
The Miners’ returnees were their typical solid selves, as Thomas was efficient offensively (6-for-7 FGs, 4-for-5 FTs), Willms snared seven rebounds with two blocks, and Harris showed signs of recovery from a back injury.
“I thought Matt was very active early and Matt normally finishes all of those shots,” Floyd said. “But I’m seeing him going to the offensive board and doing things that he hasn’t done in the past. I thought Paul Thomas played very well also. Keith Frazier hadn’t played significant minutes in two years and we love his talent. We think he’s got a real chance. We’re glad to get Omega back on the floor. He has been out with a back injury. He looked as live as he has been in the past. We just hope that he’ll wake up tomorrow and not have the stiffness and soreness in that back.
“Evan Gilyard gives us a different presence at the 10-second line guarding the ball, which I think is really helping our defense behind. Like all of them, he has got to continue to grow. I saw him make some plays tonight that he didn’t make in the first two exhibition games in terms of driving and kicking and making plays for others. Parts of what we were doing didn’t look as good, but that’s the great thing about the game. We’ll go back and work on a press offense, which bothered us a little bit tonight. All in all, it was a good night.”
The Miners will leave Tuesday for Myrtle Beach, S.C., where they’ll participate in the relocated Puerto Rico Shootout. Up first is the renewal of a former WAC rivalry with Boise State on Thursday (Nov. 16) at noon MT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.