The UTEP men’s basketball team will launch its season at home for a ninth straight year on Saturday (Nov. 12) when it entertains Louisiana College. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
“It’s an exciting time of the year,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Two years ago we opened with New Mexico State and Washington State. This team was not really built for that, given the injury to Matt Willms a year ago and the fact that we are relying on some guys who have not played before. So we are going to go out against a Louisiana College team that I am somewhat familiar with.”
While this is UTEP’s regular season opener, it is the second of three exhibition games to open the campaign for Louisiana College. The Wildcats dropped a 103-68 decision at Louisiana Monroe on Monday and will play at McNeese State on Nov. 15 prior to their first regular season game against Millsaps College on Nov. 26.
A Division III program, Louisiana College was 14-13 last season but won 12 of its last 17 games. The Wildcats return three of their top five scorers from last year’s squad. The top returnees are senior forward Raheem Regis (13.5 ppg in 2015-16), senior guard Kevin Cottonham (11.5 ppg) and senior forward Steve Evans (8.9 ppg).
Cottonham played in just six games last season, compiling 22 assists and 10 turnovers, before receiving a medical redshirt.
In the exhibition against Louisiana Monroe, Cottonham and sophomore guard/forward D’Aaron Davis each scored 13 points. Junior guard Torrian Lee dished out five assists in 18 minutes off the bench. The Wildcats comitted 23 turnovers that ULM exploited into 27 points.
The Louisiana College staff has ties to both Floyd and UTEP.
“Their coach [Reni Mason] is a young man who played for me at the University of New Orleans,” Floyd said. “Their assistant coach [Jonathan Brooks] is a guy who was our manager here three years ago. His dad is a high school coach here in the city.”
Despite their classification, Floyd expects the Wildcats to pose some problems for his team.
“They are going to play very spirited, they are going to play hard,” he said. “They are going to challenge us by putting five guards on the floor and try to drive our big 6-11 and seven footers who aren’t used to guarding out on the floor. They have the ability to score a lot of points. They like to play an up-tempo style of play. They’re going to trap us some out of zones.”
After a pair of narrow exhibition victories – 80-73 over Southeastern Oklahoma and 87-85 in overtime over Alaska – the Miners are simply trying to get better. And they know that much stingier opponents loom.
“This will be a preparation game before we go on the road next week to play an Atlantic Coast Conference team in Wake Forest [at the Gildan Charleston Classic] who is bigger, stronger, faster and more talented than these young men we are going to play on Saturday,” Floyd said. “But given our two exhibition games, the fact that we have not been dominant, we won’t be taking this team lightly.”
Following Saturday’s opener, the Miners will play three games in Charleston over four days (Nov. 17-20). They’ll return home to face Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 23) before taking a long break from competition, something that Floyd said was by design.
“We purposely [scheduled the Charleston Classic] to challenge our team early in the year,” he said. “We purposely opened it up where we are going to have about nine straight days to practice [after Nov. 23]. We think that can ultimately help our development as we move forward.”
UTEP is 69-26 in season openers, including 50-5 in its last 55. Saturday’s game will be Floyd’s 200th as the Miners’ head coach; he is 122-77 as he enters his seventh season at the helm of the program.
UTEP Basketball season tickets are on sale by calling (915) 747-6150. Single-game tickets, starting at $8, are available by calling (915) 747-5234.