In their 217th meeting and second this season, rivals UTEP and NM State will tangle tonight at 7 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center as the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 resumes.
“It’s a significant rivalry based on proximity. You can throw the records out and you’re going to get each other’s best game,” first-year UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said. “We understand what’s on the line in terms of the rivalry. I think it’s great that we have that kind of out-of-conference opponent early in the year where it means something on both ends. We’re going to compete as hard as we can.”
Wednesday night’s game is an ‘Orange Out’ and the first 5,000 fans will receive an orange pom-pom.
“We have a lot of respect for [NM State’s] program and what they’ve been able to do,” Terry said. “They have good players who put a lot of pressure on you defensively. In transition, they put a lot of pressure on you in terms of scoring early. You need to stop the ball with [A.J.] Harris and do a great job with him defensively. He can score for himself and he can also find guys that can score as well. Pick-and-roll defense is really big for us. We have to do a good job with our coverage. And the rebounding battle will be huge, we know they did a nice job rebounding against us [in Las Cruces]. They’re a good team and a great challenge for us in nonconference play.”
Single-game tickets, starting at $8, are available by calling (915) 747-5234. Fans can listen live on KOFX 92.3 with ‘The Voice of the Miners’ Jon Teicher and Steve Yellen. The Spanish broadcast can be heard on ESPN Deportes 1650AM with Omar Ropele and Abel Rodriguez. The Miners and Aggies can also be seen on the CUSA.TV live stream.
“We played at some really good environment earlier in the season and when I took this job I knew that [the Don Haskins Center] will be one of the toughest places to play as well. And we need to create that,” Terry said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. We know we need to put a good product on the floor for the Miner fans, one that will do really well on the floor and play with some grit and effort that this community will support. I’d like to think we’ll build some goodwill to where this community will come and get behind the kids who will do it the right way on and off the court. We’re trying to build a winner on and off the court with kids the community will feel good about and will want to come and support win or lose.”
The Miners (2-3) are coming off a loss at New Mexico (84-78) in which they had a five-point lead at the half on Nov. 24. The Lobos hit 8-of-11 from three-point range during the second half to pull away for the victory.
Sophomore Evan Gilyard, who was named the Conference USA Player of the Week on Nov. 26, scored 22 points to lead the squad and connected on 5-of-9 from downtown. It was Gilyard’s fourth time leading the team in scoring, while it was also his fourth 20-plus point performance of the young season.
Efe Odigie, who was named the C-USA Freshman of the Week on November 26, came up a rebound short of his third consecutive double-double. Odigie scored 11 points and went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe with under three minutes left in the game to keep the Miners in the contest.
A pair of UTEP freshmen hit double figures in points for the first time during their careers. Nigel Hawkins scored 12 points and led the team with two steals. Jordan Lathon connected on a pair of three-point buckets, scoring 10 points and leading the team with four assists. Paul Thomas scored a season-high 16 points before fouling out and Kaosi Ezeagu came off the bench to score six points and tally five rebounds.
Gilyard is the third-leading scorer in C-USA and ranks 43rd nationally at 20.8 points per game, while Odigie leads the league in rebounds per contest (10.2) and ranks 23rd nationally. As a team, UTEP ranks second in C-USA in three-point shooting percentage (.376) and fifth in defensive rebounds per game (27.6).
NM State (3-1) is coming off a split since hosting UTEP on Nov. 9. The Aggies fell to Saint Mary’s (Calif.), 73-58, on Nov. 14 in Las Cruces, while outscoring New Mexico, 98-94, on Nov. 17 in The Pit. Aggies 5-9 guard A.J. Harris led his team with 31 points, including a perfect 6-for-6 from downtown in 30 minutes of action against UNM. Terrell Brown chipped in with 20 points. Mohamed Thiam led the team in rebounds (nine) against the Lobos.
NM State is led by Harris’s 14.8 point per game, while Brown is averaging 12.8 points per contest. Eli Chuha paces the squad in rebounds per game (6.0).
The Aggies lead the all-time series 113-103, while the Miners have lost the last eight contests. UTEP’s last win came on Nov. 22, 2014, a 77-76 triumph in the Don Haskins Center.
Earlier this year, NM State defeated UTEP, 96-69, on November 9 at the Pan American Center.