The Miners opened their 2015-16 season against New Orleans’ Loyola in what turned out to be a tune-up of sorts defeating the Wolfpack 96 to 49.
UTEP would jump to an early lead and would not let go, heading into the half with a 30-point advantage.
Head coach Tim Floyd, returned to the team with a heavy heart after his sister passed away last week and noticed the team had not missed a beat, giving them credit for showing more energy stating they looked more “alive” and “engaged.”
The Miners took advantage of their free throw opportunities hitting 70 percent of their attempts, but it was their dominance in rebounding that helped the Miners in their victory, outgaining Loyola 56 to 29 on the boards.
Artis who led the team in minutes played with 30 was pleased with his conditioning, but said it can get better.
Floyd knows the level of competition won’t always be that of Loyola’s, but views this game as a promising start.
“As far as openers go with so many new players, I think we have to be basically pleased. We recognize that Loyola is not the caliber of team that we’re going to be seeing all year long,” Floyd said. “That being said you still have to play against the game itself and try and compete and play really hard and I try our guys tried to do that.”
Fellow guard, Lee Moore and center Hooper Vint would follow with double-digit points as the the Miners would continue to pull away from the Wolf Pack.
Moore would lead all scorers with 17 points, Vint finished with 15 and Artis would fall two assists and a rebound short of a double-double in addition to his 16 points.
“It feels good to see that they worked paid off from over the summer,” Moore said. “It’s just a good feeling to get back out there and play with my team.”
With 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the game, the Miners led by 48 points, their biggest of the game. Vint noted that was pleased to see his team work well in their first game despite the level of competition.
“We can work on our execution and pushing the ball up the court,” Vint said. “Regardless of the level of play, rebounding always transitions and we rebounded really well, we got to the foul line and think if we do that all year, we’re going to have a great season.”
With such a big lead, it gave Floyd an opportunity to play his young talent and extended period of time. With seven freshmen on the team, players like Paul Thomas, Trey Touchet and Brodricks Jones saw playing time of 21, 19 and 18 minutes respectively.
“All these freshmen are going to be good players one day, I think it’s exiting to see the youth that’s out there,” Floyd said. “I’m encouraged from the standpoint that we have a lot of guys that are going to be integral parts of this team who are not out there on the floor right now, Josh McSwiggan, Earvin Morris, Omega Harris. The potential is good.”
UTEP finished the night shooting 20 percent from three-point range, connecting on only three of 15 attempts. Floyd called that a strength of the team and expects them to improve on that statistic.
“One thing we’re not doing well is shooting the three very good, but I think that’s maybe the best thing this team does and I find that encouraging,” Floyd said. “It should be our strength and it really hasn’t happened, we’re still figuring out ways to go out and compete it.”
Floyd voiced a concern for the flow of the game due to the amount of fouls being called, something the Miners benefited from in their win scoring 33 of their points from the free throw line.
“The whistles are obviously very tight. Fans are going to have to offer their opinions of if they like the number of fouls that are being called in college basketball games,” Floyd said. “We certainly can’t talk about it, but you’ll probably notice in the flow ballgames.”
The Miners will have to wait another week before their next game when they’ll host Texas State on Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center.
This marks the 50th anniversary of the 1966 national championship season. UTEP remains the only Division-1 men’s basketball program in the state of Texas with an NCAA championship.