It wasn’t pretty, but the result was in their favor.
For what it’s worth, here’s what should be noted about the UTEP Miners’ division-2 opponent Friday night: they lost to Oklahoma State 94-66 Friday night, rode in at five in the morning and made it a close game against UTEP down the stretch the next day.
Take that how you may; because as the Miners try to find their new identity and build chemistry, the most important thing they could have gained was a 78-66 victory and a positive look at their potential starting point guard.
Junior Dominic Artis, who transferred from Oregon, played in his first action while ironing out some eligibility issues last week and did not disappoint tonight. Artis, who found out he was eligible to play Friday according to head coach Tim Floyd, finished with a game-highs 19 points, five assists and three steals in 36 minutes.
“I thought it was great that Dominic Artis was able to get out on the floor and go play for the first time in a year-and-a-half,” Floyd said. “He was so excited about playing, so appreciative, and I thought he did some nice things. He’s only going to get better every time he goes out.”
Artis attacked the rim aggressively and was quick to shoot. Floyd was just happy to get him out there, resulting in the heavy workload.
Artis partnered well with junior Lee Moore, who already established his offensive presence at last week’s 28-point performance, as Moore finished with another monster game and a double-double of 16 points and 15 rebounds in 33 minutes.
The heavy minutes were to be expected as the Miners, already lacking sophomore guard Omega Harris to academic eligibility, were without senior Earvin Morris, redshirt freshman Terry Winn and freshman Christian Romine due to suspensions. Floyd said he expects all three to be out for next week’s regular season opener against Loyola-New Orleans and possibly longer.
“Probably not the following week. They need to sit here a couple of more ball games and understand how important and how precious being able to play college basketball really is. How important it is to think outside of yourself and think of others really is,” Floyd said.
Without those players, the post play also was relied heavily upon senior Hooper Vint and junior Matt Willms again. Willms, still dealing with a foot injury, played six minutes and Floyd said he doesn’t expect him to play longer than “15-18 or 20 minutes” a game this season.
That led to more three- and four-guard sets plus more minutes for freshmen Brodrick Jones, 18, and Paul Thomas, 20. The two finished with a combined seven points and 10 rebounds and played key minutes down the stretch.
As the result proved to be closer than expected Floyd said that could be pointed to easy layups given up and lack of experience from his young team.
“You ever see that many layups in our building? They just kept getting to the rim and layups,” Floyd said. “I think it’s being new guys and not being in enough film sessions with us and that’s a great thing about this game because we’ll look at the clips and say that’s unacceptable.”
UTEP led for all but 1:20 and held a 44-31 lead with 17:09 to go in the game. East Central cut into that over the next five minutes at 51-46, scoring on seven of their next 10 possessions.
The Miners scored six of the next eight points but the Tigers quickly stormed back to cut it to 58-56 with 6:44 to go.
The defense stepped up when it mattered down the stretch, forcing three turnovers and one block to finish the game on a 20-10 run.
Again, it wasn’t pretty, but the result was.
“We played a team that played last night and I thought they played at times more spirited that we did,” Floyd.