UTEP continues their four game home stand by hosting another second place team in the LA Tech Bulldogs who won back-to-back home games last weekend.
“I think our guys feel good about themselves right now,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “But there’s nothing like Louisiana Tech showing up to humble you and put you back in your shoes. We know that we’ve got to get better again this week in order to compete on Thursday night. Our crowds have been absolutely awesome. We’re hoping that we have another great turnout here.”
LA Tech got a huge boost last week when guard Jacobi Boykins returned to the lineup. Boykins scored 25 points against WKU, then posted 14 points eight rebounds, and five assists against Marshall on Saturday.
Boykins is shooting 47 percent from 3-point land on the season, and ranks second in the conference with just under three makes from long distance per game.
Erik McCree is always a matchup issue for the Miners. Coming off a 30-point game against Marshall, McCree leads C-USA with 11 double-doubles, and shot 7-for-11 from 3-point land last weekend.
“They throw a lot of lefties at you that can really play,” Floyd said. “Erik McCree is a candidate for player of the year in our league. He is an extremely difficult matchup for our team. They put a lot of pressure on you in the open floor. I think one of the best things that they do is defend. Boykins is going to be an all-league player at the small forward spot. And their little point guard is as fast as Omega Harris. It’s a great team and we’re going to see their best shot when they come in here.
Big man Omar Sherman has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, but only scored two points in the first matchup with UTEP back on January 7th.
One of the more intriguing matchups will be at point guard featuring LA Tech freshman DaQuan Bracey, and UTEP senior Dominic Artis.
Bracey is the straw that stirs LA Tech's drink of consistency with a 34.7 assist rate which ranks 28th nationally according to Ken Pom.
Artis has led the Miners in scoring five times, rebounds eight times, assists 18 times and steals 17 times this season and was key in the Miners defensive effort against Middle Tennessee in where UTEP forced 19 turnovers.
Seven of UTEP's last eight home games have been decided by five points or less, as the Miners continue to improve thanks to a healthy Matt Willms, and improved defensive marks.
“We’d like to think that we’ve grown a little bit, but I think this is the real test,” Floyd said. “Who knows? We’ve just got to go play and play inspired. In the last ballgame Matt Willms went down with an injury [in a 31-27 game] in the second half. We’re hopeful that he’ll be healthy and we’ll be healthy mentally and ready to roll.”
Things seemed to fall apart in the first matchup when Willms rolled his ankle with the Miners down four, but the emergence of Paul Thomas sort of started in Ruston with Thomas scoring 12 points in the first matchup.
Omega Harris leads UTEP in scoring and is tied with Artis for the team lead in double-figure scoring games (19). He had his 16-game double figure scoring streak, longest by a UTEP player in six years, snapped against Middle Tennessee.
His strong junior season has him tied for 10th in school history in three-point field goals (113) and is ranked 8th in the conference in points per game.
Thursday's game marks the 700th game in school history played in the Don Haskins Center, can the Miners continue their upward tick, or do the Bulldogs bring UTEP back to reality?
Keys to UTEP win
- Take care of the ball
- Get back on defense
- Get to the free throw line
- Keep McCree off the 3-point line
LA Tech is always a matchup problem for UTEP, and staying out of foul trouble should be another key.
If the Bulldogs hit shots, UTEP really can't afford to fall behind early they have during this winning slide. Getting off to a strong start will be another key for UTEP as they have fell behind by double digits in both wins last weekend.
UTEP wins if the game is played in the 60's or lower, but can their defense rise to the occasion once again at home?
LA Tech by 4….