After pummeling Division III Louisiana College by 50 points in the season opener last Friday, the UTEP men’s basketball team will begin a difficult run of games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Myrtle Beach Thursday.
The Miners (1-0) will face Boise State (2-0), which has been to the NCAA Tournament twice under eighth-year head coach Leon Rice, at noon MT at the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina University. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
The Broncos are picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference and received two first-place votes in the preseason poll.
“If you look at our schedule over the next seven or eight games, I’m not sure anybody in the country is going to play one tougher,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We get back from this tournament and we’re at New Mexico State, we play a Lamar team that just won at Tulsa, then we’ve got New Mexico State again, we’ve got New Mexico coming in and we’ve got Washington State coming in. That’s why this game is important. We’re going to learn to play against quality teams and we’re going to do it on a neutral floor.”
The Broncos routed Eastern Oregon on Friday (104-65) and Southern Utah on Sunday (90-69) to open the season. Four Broncos are averaging double figures in scoring through two games — sophomore guard Alex Hobbs (20.0 ppg), sophomore guard Justinian Jessup (18.5 ppg), senior forward Chris Sengfelder (14.5 ppg) and senior guard Chandler Hutchison (13.5 ppg). Hutchison also averages a team-leading 7.0 rpg and 5.5 apg.
Boise State is shooting 55.7 percent from the field, 46.8 percent from three-point range and 78.4 percent from the line and has a rebound margin of +10.0 per game. Hobbs has made 18-of-22 shots (.818) and was 9-for-9 from the floor (3-for-3 from three-point land) in the opener versus Eastern Oregon. Three Broncos have scored 20 points through two games. Hobbs (21 points) and Hutchison (20) achieved the feat versus Eastern Oregon, and Jessup (22 points) followed suit off the bench versus Southern Utah.
“We see a team that’s extremely well-coached,” Floyd said. “They get back well defensively. Some of the transition baskets that we have been getting, I doubt will be provided because of their ability to get back. They are explosive in the offensive transition and I think that’s where they’re really dangerous. It appears to me that they really feed off these eight, 12, 14-point runs that are geared by efficiency in terms of effort, bigs running the floor to get back and being able to contain terrific guard play. The Hobbs kid is a real surprise to a lot of people early in the season. The kid named Hutchison was the preseason pick for Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference. Jessup just wears it out, he can really shoot it. And I think they’re better than they were last year based on what I’ve seen on film, just because of the addition of the big German Sengfelder who has taken 15 of his 21 shots from three. So that’s a different kind of cover for us. It’s a good basketball team.”
The Miners will face either Illinois State or 2017 Final Four participant South Carolina on Friday. Appalachian State, Iowa State, Tulsa and Western Michigan are also in the tournament, which will continue through Sunday with an off day Saturday.
“What we’d like to get out of it is as many wins as we can, obviously,” Floyd said. “That’s the whole nature of what we do and that’s the essence of what we try to do, is try to win. At this point, we might shorten our rotation somewhat. We have been able to play a lot of guys and that was by design. But you get in one and two-point games, how much can you draw from a freshman in those situations? We’re going to try to put them in tight game situations and practice between now and the time we play [Boise State].”