Miners Will Have Their Hands Full With Big, Experienced Aggies
Nov. 17, 2011
UTEP (1-1) plays at NM State (2-0) in the renewal of the SONIC Battle of I-10 Rivalry Series on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Las Cruces. The teams will square off in El Paso on Dec. 11. It marks UTEP's first road game of the season. The Miners will be on the road for three of the next five contests, including playing at Oregon on Nov. 29 and UNLV on Dec. 14. Saturday's game is NMSU's home opener.
The Miners are starting fresh this season with nine newcomers, including a Division I transfer (junior guard Jacques Streeter), a junior college transfer (junior forward Malcolm Moore) and seven freshmen. UTEP returns just three letterwinners and one starter (senior forward Gabriel McCulley) from last year's unit that finished 25-10 overall and tied for second place in Conference USA with an 11-5 mark. The Miners lost 82.5 percent of their scoring and 70.6 percent of their rebounding production from the 2010-11 squad, which had eight seniors.
SCOUTING NM STATE
The Aggies are 2-0 and coming off an impressive 62-53 win at New Mexico on Wednesday. NMSU held the Lobos to a .280 field goal percentage (.190 in the second half) and shot 60 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes in erasing a 31-26 halftime deficit.
NMSU is big (six players 6-8 or taller on the 2011-12 roster) and experienced (three seniors and three juniors). Four Aggies are averaging over 10 points per game -- senior forward Wendell McKines (16.0 ppg), junior forward Bandja Sy (12.5 ppg), sophomore guard Christian Kabongo (12.0 ppg) and senior guard Hernst Laroche (12.5 ppg). McKines averages 9.5 rebounds per game, and senior center Hamidu Rahman also provides an inside presence with 8.0 points and 6.5 boards per outing. The Aggies are shooting 48.5 percent from the field and have a rebound margin of +7.0 per game on the year. NMSU has made more free throws (47) than its opponents have attempted (42) this season, although the Aggies shoot just 59.5 percent from the foul line as a team.
NM State holds a 101-100 edge in the series ledger. The Aggies are 54-40 versus the Miners in games played at Las Cruces, including 23-21 at the Pan American Center. One team has swept the season series in seven of the last nine years. NMSU won both matchups during the 2002-03 and 2006-07 seasons, and the Miners swept the Aggies during the 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08 and 2010-11 campaigns.
This season marks the 18th time in 22 years that UTEP and New Mexico State have opened their two-game set in Las Cruces. Three of the last five matchups in the City of the Crosses have been decided by either one or two points.
UTEP's Tim Floyd is 3-0 when coaching against NMSU. Marvin Menzies was coach of the Aggies all three times. Floyd's USC Trojans, then ranked no. 19 in the nation, topped the Aggies on Nov. 18, 2008 at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, 73-60. UTEP swept NMSU a year ago, winning 73-56 in El Paso and 74-72 in Las Cruces.
Floyd and Menzies both coached at USC previously. Floyd was the head coach there from 2005-09 and Menzies was an assistant during the 2003-04 season.
JUST LIKE OLD TIMES
In Don Haskins' 38 seasons as head coach (1961-99), UTEP played its first game outside of El Paso at NM State 16 times -- including in 13 of his last 17 years on the bench. Since his retirement, however, the Miners have played 13 seasons, and 2011-12 marks just the second time that UTEP has tipped off its road/neutral site schedule in Las Cruces. This was also the case during the 2009-10 campaign, when the Miners thumped the Aggies 79-58 at the Pan American Center to improve to 5-0 following four straight home wins.
The Miners and Aggies are also squaring off within the first three games of the season for the first time in 11 years. The Nov. 19 date marks the second-earliest UTEP-NMSU meeting in school history (the earliest is a Nov. 13, 1998 matchup in El Paso, won by the Aggies 59-57).
THE LAST MEETING
Randy Culpepper shot UTEP into a 40-35 halftime lead on Nov. 30, 2010 at NM State, and his teammates put the finishing touches on the Miners' 74-72 win over the Aggies.
Culpepper scored 25 of his 32 points in an unconscious opening 20 minutes, hitting 8-of-12 shots from the field and 5-of-8 three pointers. He was 2-for-8 from the floor thereafter, but the Miners received major contributions from Christian Polk (nine points) Julyan Stone (seven points) and Claude Britten (seven points) in the second half on their way to their fifth season sweep of NMSU in the last eight years.
The Miners took the lead for good at 32-30 on two Culpepper free throws with 5:38 remaining in the first half. UTEP went ahead by double digits for the first time at 56-46 on a layup by Jeremy Williams with 11:51 to play. The Miners extended the lead to 12 points and were ahead 69-60 with under three minutes left. A three pointer by Hernst Laroche completed a 12-4 run and pulled NMSU within a point (73-72) with two seconds left. But the Miners successfully inbounded the ball and, with two tenths of a second on the clock, Culpepper made one-of-two free throws to complete the scoring.
Britten scored 13 points for the Miners, and Troy Gillenwater led NMSU with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
A DIFFERENCE IN EXPERIENCE
The 18 players on NMSU's roster have combined to play in 29 games against the Miners (Hernst Laroche six games, Hamidu Rahman five, Wendell McKines four, Tyrone Watson four, Bandja Sy three, B.J. West three, Christian Kabongo two, Tshilidzi Nephawe two). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 13 players on UTEP's roster have teamed to face the Aggies 14 times (Gabriel McCulley eight games, John Bohannon two, Michael Perez two, Jacques Streeter two when he was at Cal State Fullerton from 2008-10). McCulley is out for Saturday's game due to injury.
In two games versus NMSU, Streeter has averaged 15.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.0 steals while shooting 47.1 percent (8-for-17) from the field, 41.7 percent (5-for-12) from three-point range and 75 percent (9-for-12) from the line. He scored 20 points against the Aggies on Nov. 24, 2009 at Fullerton.
UTEP'S LAST GAME
Julian Washburn scored 14 points, and fellow freshman Hooper Vint hit back-to-back three pointers at an opportune time late in the second half, as UTEP beat UC Riverside, 52-41, for its first win of the season on Sunday at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners took an 11-point lead (39-28) on two free throws by Jacques Streeter with 9:01 remaining in the game, only to see the Highlanders storm back and pull within two (39-37) on a layup by Kareem Nitoto with 6:07 remaining. After Cedrick Lang's free throw pushed UTEP's lead to three, Vint nailed back-to-back bombs -- the first with 4:54 left and the second with 4:21 to go -- to extend the lead to 46-37. UTEP wasn't threatened thereafter, pushing the lead to as many as 13 points.
For the second straight game, UTEP had a +10 rebound margin, as the Miners secured 37 caroms to the Highlanders' 27. The Miners also lowered their turnover tally from 21 in the opener against UTSA to 17, and made 6-of-9 three pointers in the second half to pull away after the teams combined for 34 first half points.
Streeter scored 12 points with four assists and no turnovers in 30 minutes, and D'Von Campbell chipped in with 10 points. Washburn, Streeter, Campbell and Vint (eight points) combined to score 44 of the team's 52 points.
REBOUND MARGIN AMONG SEASON'S FIRST SURPRISES
The Miners outrebounded UTSA 36-26 in the season opener, and UC Riverside 37-27 on Sunday -- marking the first time since 1983-84 that UTEP has had a double-digit rebound margin in the first two games of the season. The Miners outrebounded Texas Southern 59-27 on Nov. 26, 1983, and NM State 39-21 on Nov. 29, 1983. UTEP had a double-figure rebound margin just once in 35 games last season (43-31 at Houston on Jan. 22).
FRESHMEN LED THE WAY AGAINST UC RIVERSIDE
UTEP received 38 points from freshmen in its 52-41 win over UC Riverside on Sunday. The last time freshmen scored more points for the Miners was on Dec. 29, 2007 at Texas Southern, when Manuel Cass (six points), Randy Culpepper (23), Gabriel McCulley (five), Wayne Portalatin (10) and Julyan Stone (two) combined for 46 points. UTEP had two freshmen (D'Von Campbell & Julian Washburn) score in double figures against UCR for the first time since Feb. 6, 2008 versus Tulane, when Britten and Culpepper tallied 12 and 13 points respectively.
So far this season, UTEP has received 56.9 percent of its points and 57.4 percent of its rebounds from freshmen.
THAT'S MORE LIKE IT
After committing six turnovers in the opener against UTSA, junior guard Jacques Streeter had an error-free performance in 30 minutes versus UC Riverside on Sunday. Streeter has played 65 collegiate games (including 63 at Cal State Fullerton from 2008-10) and has had zero turnovers on eight occasions (including five times as a freshman).
Streeter has shot the ball well early this season. He has made 6-of-9 three point attempts (.667) and is 5-for-6 from the charity stripe (.833).
WASHBURN IS A MINUTE MAN
Julian Washburn leads the Miners with 69 minutes (34.5 avg.) in two games. A freshman hasn't led UTEP in playing time since the 2002-03 season, when Giovanni St. Amant was on the floor for 1,052 minutes.
While Washburn is second on the squad in scoring (11.0 ppg) and put a team-leading 14 points on the board the last time out versus UCR, he has draw even more praise for his defensive exploits. Coach Tim Floyd has labeled Washburn as the team's best on-ball defender, and he shut down high-scoring UCR guard Phil Martin, holding him to six points on 3-of-11 shooting.
LANG SPEARHEADING REBOUNDING EFFORT
Cedrick Lang has either tied for the team lead in rebounding or won it outright in each of the first two games. He pulled down five boards versus UTSA and nine against UC Riverside. With a 7.0 average, Lang could become only the third freshman to lead the Miners in rebounding, joining Anthony Burns during the 1977-78 season (9.4 avg.) and Arnett Moultrie during the 2008-09 campaign (8.2 avg.).
ROOKIE FLOOR GENERALS PRACTICING BALL CONTROL
Freshmen point guards D'Von Campbell and C.J. Cooper have combined to play 62 minutes this season with only five turnovers (they have nine assists between them). They have shown signs from an offensive standpoint as well, with Cooper burying a couple of three pointers versus UTSA and Campbell scoring in double figures (10 points) against UC Riverside.
A GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS PROPOSITION
The Miners held UC Riverside to 41 points, the fewest they have allowed in a game since Dec. 19, 2009, when Alcorn State also put 41 points on the board. The 52-41 victory over the Highlanders made Tim Floyd's teams 51-2 all-time when yielding fewer than 50 points.
With so many new faces, UTEP has struggled putting points on the board in the first two games. The last time the Miners scored less than 65 points in their first two games of a season was 1985-86, when they opened with an 82-53 loss to Washington and a 58-52 win over Appalachian State.
MINERS' OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY HAS IMPROVED IN 2ND HALF
UTEP made 8-of-25 shots in the first half (.320) in each of the its two games. The Miners got off to slow starts in both, scoring five points in the first 9:58 against UTSA and 10 in the first 14:53 versus UC Riverside. The Miners have loosened up to score 30 more points in the second half (73) than they have in the first half (43). UTEP is shooting 52.1 percent (25-for-48) in the second half this season, including 55 percent (11-for-20) from three-point territory (the Miners are 3-for-20 from three-point land in the first half).