Miners Turn Focus to Northwestern State on Saturday

With Terry Winn out of the picture, the UTEP men’s basketball team is forging ahead to Saturday’s home game against Northwestern State.  The Demons are 2-4 (0-4 on the road), but will host LSU-Shreveport on Thursday night before coming to El Paso.

The Miners, meanwhile, have made the most of a nine-day break between games.

“We’re using it to teach and coach and get a lot of repetitions and the kids have been fabulous,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They’re really, really trying hard.  I think we needed a break.  We needed to try to get better.”

The Miners (2-3) will move forward without Winn, who averaged 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in three games this season.

“Terry tried to quit twice as a freshman and we probably would’ve slid him out after his freshman year, but Vince Hunter went pro and we had to have him go play,” Floyd said.  “I was hoping that we could rely on him.  It probably wasn’t a good fit for Terry.  It probably wasn’t a good fit for us.  And that happens.  But we’ve got good kids in here.  We’re going to go coach them hard and we’re going to try to have a great year.”

UTEP will be even more short-handed on Saturday with Omega Harris serving a suspension for missing class.

“I have convictions about why I’m here,” Floyd said.  “These kids are here to get diplomas and they’re here to get degrees. Omega has abused the class attendance clause in his contract repeatedly.  The latest one happened last week after a warning that if he did it again, he was going to miss a game.  I think the easy thing to do for a coach would be to say, ‘Boy, we really need to win and I’ve really got to play this guy,’ but it’s not the right thing for this kid.  And the right thing for this kid to do is to get an education, to understand you’re a student-athlete and you’re going to go to school and set an example.”

Harris is tied for team-high scoring honors (15.6 ppg) with Dominic Artis, who has posted stellar all-around numbers in 2016-17 (15.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 7.2 apg).

“Dominic is having a hell of a year at this point,” Floyd said.  “He needs some help.  We’re hopeful that Matt [Willms] gets healthy and Kelvin [Jones] develops and Paul [Thomas] gets to do his job and Jake [Flaggert] flourishes and Omega comes back as a solid kid and a solid guy that we can count on.  We try to go win as many games as we can.  Right now we’re struggling a little bit right now.  But we’re going to get better.”

Northwestern State has faced a murderer’s row of early season opponents, losing at Texas A&M (72-44), Oklahoma (97-61), Missouri (84-60) and, most recently, Mississippi State on Monday (65-59).  The Demons actually led (54-53) with five minutes to go in Starkville but couldn’t pull off the upset.

Northwestern State senior guard Zeek Woodley is averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from outside and 90.5 percent from the line.

The Demons rank 310th nationally in scoring offense and 290th in scoring defense, but will still pose a challenge to the depleted Miners.

“They all look like Golden State to me.  We’ve got to go fight them all,” Floyd said.  “The coach [Mike McConathy] is one of my dear friends.  I was in his wedding, he was in my wedding.  He lost one of the top three point guards in America this year going into the season with an injury, Jalan West who is a fabulous, fabulous player.  But they’ve got some really good players and they’re certainly good enough to beat us.  So I want our guys to understand ‘look, you’ve got to get over yourselves.  We’ve got to all think about the other guy and when we do we’ll grow, we’ll get better, and we’re going to win as many games as we can.”

The Miners are in the midst of an interesting stretch.  They’re coming off a nine-day layoff between games.  They’ll play at New Mexico on Wednesday, then be off for six days before hosting NM State.  That will begin a run of four games in 10 days leading up to Christmas.  It’s all about improving right now, and UTEP will have plenty of time to continue getting better over the next couple weeks.

“We’re going to do the best job with the guys that we have,” Floyd said.  “You don’t have to be an expert to look around and say that this team is void of a couple stars.  But I love Dominic Artis.  And for this team to be a representative team – we were picked eighth or ninth in our league – Dominic Artis needs to be probably a first team all-league guy.  Omega Harris is one of our better players, he needs to be a guy we can count on and rely on and be a terrific player.  Matt Willms needs to be healthy and we needed a healthy Terry Winn in all areas.  But we didn’t need the distraction.  Right now we have chosen to coach the guys that we’ve got.  We have a good group of kids and I’m going to give them all my time and energy.”