Omega Harris scored a career-high 24 points, and Dominic Artis posted another near-triple double as UTEP coasted to an 88-54 season-opening victory over Louisiana College on Saturday at the Haskins Center.
The Miners (1-0) ended the first half with a 23-5 run and opened the second period with a 20-5 spurt, leading by as many as 35 points over the last 20 minutes.
“It’s probably a game this team needed,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “This team needed to learn how to win a little bit. Kelvin Jones needed to learn how to play a little bit. Deon Barrett, Chris Barnes, all those guys needed critical minutes and they were able to receive them. These kids need some minutes in front of crowds and hopefully will benefit from that.”
Ten Miners were on the floor for double-digit minutes. None played 30 minutes. Eleven Miners scored, including freshmen Barnes (two points), Barrett (six), Tim Cameron (three) and Jones (six points).
Floyd went with a mostly veteran starting lineup of Artis, Harris, Jake Flaggert, Paul Thomas and Terry Winn. Artis collected eight points, nine rebounds, four steals and a career-high 13 assists before fouling out with 2:29 to play. Harris made 9-of-14 shots, 4-of-6 three-pointers and both of his free throw attempts.
Flaggert, who led Conference USA in charges drawn with 18 last season, added three more to his career total on Saturday. Thomas posted a career-high 11 rebounds in only 14 minutes. Winn put together another solid performance with 15 points (7-for-11 field goals) and eight boards.
The Miners shot 54.8 percent from the field, scored 52 points in the paint and outrebounded Louisiana College 52-29. About the only thing they didn’t do well was protect the ball (22 turnovers).
“On the flip side of that, 29 assists on 34 baskets is a good thing,” Floyd said. “I thought Dominic Artis was really, really unselfish tonight. It was a point of emphasis for him and for us throughout the course of the last week. I thought he really got some guys some easy shots, Omega Harris in particular, Trey Touchet, some dump offs to Terry Winn early in the ballgame, some of them weren’t finished. But I thought he did a nice job and little Deon Barrett had six assists and one turnover. It was a nice opening game for him.”
Taylan Grogan led Louisiana College, which played the second of three exhibition games to open its season, with 13 points in a reserve role. The Wildcats played the Miners to a 24-24 draw in the first 13 minutes before the game got away from them.
The UTEP bench produced 35 points led by Touchet and Matt Willms with nine each. They were a combined 8-for-8 from the field according to the stat sheet.
“We had a 15-minute limit on [Matt] and we played him 12 in the first half and I said why go play him three more,” Floyd said. “We just have to be so cognizant of the [foot] injury. We’re hoping the doctors will allow him to go to 20 minutes. Kelvin Jones had a little success tonight. That was kind of cool to watch early on. He’s got to grow and understand that ‘I’m the biggest guy on the floor, I’m the best athlete on the floor as a big guy. I need to play with a little more power toward the rim. I need to keep the ball high.’ He is just learning how to play, basically, and is going to be a very good player one day.”
An encouraging sign was the combined 19 assists from Artis and Barrett.
“I thought those guys made a lot of really nice plays for others,” Floyd said. “We have guys on our team that need help in terms of scoring. They need a little space. And [Dominic] created space for those guys and he created angles to the basket for our big guys by getting in the lane and dumping it off, by getting in the lane and kicking it out as the perimeter guy had to help toward him. I thought he had a really nice game and so did Deon.”
And then there was the silky-smooth shooting and open-floor scoring from Harris.
“I thought Omega shot the ball well,” Floyd said. “He’s such a great athlete and he does some really, really nice things that are special. His energy and speed remind you of Jeep Jackson back in the day, and his smile and his charisma and all that. I think Jeep was prettier than he is. But I thought he did some nice things.”
The Miners will find out a lot about themselves this week at the Gildan Charleston Classic in South Carolina. Up first is a Thursday 11:30 a.m. MT date with Wake Forest. The game will be streamed on espn3.com.
“We can’t turn it over that much and have any kind of shot against Wake Forest, obviously,” Floyd said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity for our guys to go out there and understand the value of the ball. We need to learn that between now and Thursday, because you can’t turn it over that much.”