Six days after knocking off Southeastern Oklahoma State, the UTEP men’s basketball team will get its final dress rehearsal for the 2016-17 season when it hosts Alaska Fairbanks on Saturday (Nov. 5) at 1 p.m.
The Nanooks are Division II but coming off a successful 2015-16 campaign where they finished 22-8 overall and 15-5 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. They averaged 83.4 points and 16.8 assists per game, numbers that rated no. 47 and no. 23 in the nation respectively. They have two returning starters in senior guard Brandon Davis (10.9 ppg last season) and senior forward Bangaly Kaba (12.2 ppg/6.2 rpg).
Of course it’s all about the Miners on Saturday, and coach Tim Floyd said the team has plenty to work on after topping the Savage Storm 80-73.
“We’d like to get better in terms of taking care of the ball,” he said. “We had too many turnovers [20 in the first game]. We’d like to get some guys some more minutes that didn’t play much in the first ballgame, and look at our bench a little bit. We had a young man [Deon Barrett] that was disciplined in the first game that will play in the second game, which will be good for him. We’d like to try to figure out a way to win since we’re really counting on a lot of new guys. And we’d like to see some of our new guys play better than we think they played in the last ballgame.”
Freshman Kelvin Jones had a solid debut against Southeastern Oklahoma State, although he was limited to 11 minutes due to foul trouble. He contributed six points and six rebounds.
“His whole thing is how hard he will play and how long he can play,” Floyd said. “We think he has enough ability to rebound the ball, which our team certainly needs. We think he’s going to be an efficient scorer at some point in his career. We just don’t know how long he can play and how hard he can play, which is something that most freshmen go through.”
UTEP’s starters in the first exhibition (Dominic Artis, Jake Flaggert, Omega Harris, Paul Thomas, Terry Winn) accounted for 134 of the team’s 200 minutes. The Miners played eight guys off the bench, including walk-on guard Jose Martinez who got in for one minute. Four other freshmen (Chris Barnes, Tim Cameron, Adrian Moore, Hudson Urbanus) were on the floor for between four and eight minutes and could be candidates for extended playing time on Saturday.
The Miners’ projected starting backcourt of Artis and Harris combined for 28 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals in the exhibition opener.
“They both would like to have some plays back. We had probably a few more turnovers than we’d like to have,” Floyd said. “They are both going to have to play well for this team to have success this year.”
The Miners had their struggles defensively last season and it’s still a work in progress.
“I don’t think we’re very good right now in that area, and we spend a lot of time on it,” Floyd said. “Sometimes you have to just question if we’re going about it with the right people in the right spots. We’ll continue to challenge guys in hopes that we’ll get better in that area.”
Exhibition ticket prices are $10 (adults) and $8 (youth) and fans can exchange their basketball ticket for a free ticket to the Miner football game against Houston Baptist later on Saturday. Fans can get their free general admission football ticket by bringing the basketball ticket to the North Sun Bowl ticket office on game day. Exchanges will be made beginning at 3 p.m., and kickoff for the football game is at 6.
Both UTEP basketball teams will be signing complimentary schedule posters in the North concourse of the Sun Bowl prior to the football game at 5 p.m.