UTEP used a big second half, while getting solid production from its freshmen to open the 2018-19 campaign with a 90-63 victory over UT Permian Basin on Tuesday night at the Don Haskins Center.
“There’s a lot of teaching going on right now, whether we’re in the locker room or on the floor. It’s a great time for our guys to continue to learn and get better in all aspects. Every minute that you’re on the floor, its matters,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “I was pleased with our effort in the second half and I didn’t think we had the same intensity and effort defensively in the first half. I’m getting my guys to know how important it is to not want to coach effort, you want to coach execution.”
Freshmen Efe Odigie, Jordan Lathon and Kaosi Ezeagu all executed in their first game as Miners.
Odigie poured in 23 points in his debut, matching the most ever by a UTEP freshman in a season opener (Gary Brewster scored 23 points on Nov. 24, 1972). Odigie also gathered nine rebounds. Lathon (six points, four assists) led the team with 10 rebounds in his debut, as it was the most by a UTEP freshman in a season opener since Terry White had 12 on Nov. 24, 1978, and Ezeagu scored 10 points, ripped down nine boards and blocked a pair of shots.
The Miners opened the contest with a 12-3 run, but would head into the locker room only up 38-34 after the Falcons’ Jamani Glover hit a jumper with under 20 seconds remaining in the half.
However, UTEP would respond and outscore its opponent 52-29 during the next 20 minutes.
Evan Gilyard hit 5-of-7 three-pointers during a 16-point second half, as the sophomore led the Miners with 24 points. Odigie chipped in with 14 points during the second half while Ezeagu tallied seven second-half points.
Gilles Dekoninck, a transfer from Fresno State, impressed in his UTEP debut as the sophomore connected on a pair of three-point baskets on his way to a 14-point performance in 29 minutes of action off the bench. Sophomore Kobe Magee played all 40 minutes, while tying for the team lead in assists (five) with Gilyard.
During the first five minutes of the second half, the Falcons answered on pretty much every UTEP. After a made three-pointer by the Falcons’ DeMarco Jackson to make the score 51-46, Lathon connected on a jumper that started a 23-9 run that put the Miners up 74-55 and never looked back.
During the contest with very few big bodies on the bench, Terry switched out Odigie (19 minutes) and Ezeagu (17 minutes) multiple times during the contest.
“Both of those guys are developing and early in their careers, they’re getting the opportunity to play significant minutes and at the level we want to play on both ends of the floor,” Terry said.
Despite fouling out, senior Paul Thomas scored 10 points, blocked a shot, recorded two assists and three boards.
“Paul is our most experienced guy that we have playing for us this year,” Terry said. “We need him on the floor defensively and offensively, and he’s got to learn how to play and stay out of foul trouble. We need him out on floor and we need his leadership.”
As a team, the Miners dished out 19 dimes, blocked six shots and made 11 three-pointers. Freshmen guards Brandon Averitt and Jakobe Dill (blocked shot) also saw action on the floor.
The 90 points scored was the most ever by a UTEP team during its head coaches’ debut. Doc Sadler’s squad opened his UTEP coaching career with 83 points on Nov. 21, 2004, while Billy Gillispie’s team put up 75 points on Nov. 23, 2002.
“I have a lot of respect for their program and respect for their coach,” Terry said. “He gets those guys to play hard, play the right way; they play like junkyard dogs and they’re tough. We’re going to get out there and match their energy and compete at a very high level. We’re excited about the opportunity for us to try to continue to get better against a program that has been established and has had an opportunity to be in postseason play, which we’re striving to get to.”
The Miners will get their first test of the season on Friday night in Las Cruces when they face NM State. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in the Pan American Center.
Photos by Johnny Yturales – El Paso Herald Post