Miners to Take an Early Look at NM State Friday
Nov. 12, 2013
While UTEP and NM State have staged plenty of November battles in the past, only once have they faced one another earlier than they will this year. The Miners and the Aggies will hook up on Friday (Nov. 15) at 7 p.m. in Las Cruces, eight days before the rematch at the Don Haskins Center.
The only previous earlier meeting between the I-10 rivals took place on Nov. 13, 1998.
The Aggies tipped off the season with three games at the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. NMSU lost to Western Michigan (70-64), and beat Tennessee State (70-55) and Hawai'i (95-88). The Aggies have four players with double figure scoring averages through three games - junior guard Daniel Mullings (14.7 ppg), junior guard DK Eldridge (12.3 ppg), sophomore center Sim Bhullar (12.0 ppg) and junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe (11.0 ppg). The 7-5, 360-pound Bhullar is also averaging 8.0 rebounds with seven blocked shots. Eldridge is a transfer from New Mexico Junior College.
"They ought to be proud of that win [at Hawaii]," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "The island is a tough place to play. It's hard to win there. They had a great crowd last night, and I thought New Mexico State played as well as any of the teams I've seen them have.
"They present so many issues. They're really good in offensive transition. They're really good at establishing the post and playing through there. They have been terrific defensively, and I don't think Marvin [Menzies] gets enough credit for his defense. They held teams under 40 percent a year ago and are continuing to do that this year. We've got a lot of things to worry about."
The last two years have produced a season split, with the Aggies winning twice on their home floor (89-73 in 2011-12 and 55-51 in 2012-13) and UTEP returning the favor in El Paso (73-69 in 2011-12 and 55-54 in 2012-13). Last season marked the first time since 2001-02 that both games were decided by four points or less.
"I think the Aggies felt like they should have gotten them both [last year]," Floyd said. "We literally stole one here in El Paso last year. We were down five or six, I think, with a minute to go. I'm still not sure how we won. But we were fortunate to get the split."
UTEP's Matt Willms was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Week on Tuesday after recording 20 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals in a season-opening 84-49 win over Loyola (New Orleans).
"Matt had a great exhibition game, he had a great scrimmage, and he had a tremendous opening game," Floyd said. "But he's doing it against 6-5 guys. Now he's got a chance to do it against 7-6, 6-11 and 6-10 [players]. It's a different deal. And I think we need to keep our expectations in check on Matt. We see a very fine prospect, but we've got to go do it against some big boys and he's got to go rebound and run the floor and do the things he does well.
"The guy I'd really like to focus on right now is John Bohannon, who I think is vastly improved. He is passing the ball very well, he's not trying to do too much, he's getting everybody involved and he has been very steady to this point."
The Miners have already shown signs of possessing a formidable frontcourt with Willms and Bohannon leading the way in the opener. It only figures to get stronger with the impending return of Cedrick Lang to the lineup.
"We'll know more about that as we get closer to game time," Floyd said. "He's going to try practicing on a limited basis today and see how he feels. We have not talked to him in the last 24 hours, but I would expect when he gets over here he'll be rarin' and ready to go."