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December 10, 2012There is no place like home for the UTEP Men's basketball team.
Following a four-game losing streak with trips to Tucson and Orlando the Miners returned to the Don Haskins Center to try and right the ship.
Mission accomplished, right?
Well, not exactly.
Most knew wins over New Mexico State and Idaho wouldn't be easy, but the team prevailed nonetheless and seems to have their confidence back as they prepare for two extremely challenging games with the no. 21 (AP) UNLV running rebels and the Oregon Ducks coming into El Paso.
Things looked extremely promising as UTEP held a 52-34 lead over Idaho with 12:16 remaining in the second half as the offense and defense clicked igniting the Miners during a 20-5 run.
I could already hear the Miner Maniacs screaming to bring on UNLV.
So what did the 12th youngest team in the nation proceed to do? Go for the jugular and close out the Vandals of course.
Ah, nope, try again.
Idaho goes on a 24-8 run to shrink the UTEP lead to 60-58 with 1:32 left in the game leaving the fans in the Don Haskins center scratching their heads.
Fortunately, senior point guard Jacques Streeter hit a clutch jumper and sophomore forward Julian Washburn iced the game with two final free throws to secure the win.
Not how head coach Tim Floyd envisioned the Miner pulling out the win losing the battle on the boards (again) and turning the ball over more than their opponent, but a win is a win.
It may have not been the prettiest win, but a loss could have been detrimental to this young team's psyche with some formidable competition right around the corner.
While there were some negatives from this past Saturday's game, there were some positive signs especially on offense.
Julian Washburn and John Bohannon did what everyone expects night in and night out, but the surprise of the night was sophomore Jalen Ragland. Ragland's 17-point career high performance was exactly what the UTEP offense needed after struggling to score following the opening night win over Oral Roberts. If Ragland had not broken out of his shooting slump we could be talking about another disappointing loss.
There are still issues on defense, however, most feel Floyd and assistant coach Phil Johnson will shore that up sooner than later.
The offense is the key to a successful season and the Miners will need more contributions similar to what Ragland provided this past weekend. It doesn't have to Ragland every night, but someone whether it is C.J. Cooper, Chris Washburn or the newest additions (Konner Tucker and McKenzie Moore); one of them will have to carry some of the scoring load to the take the pressure off Julian Washburn and Bohannon.
With four straight home games coming up on the non-conference schedule UTEP has a golden opportunity to turn some heads as they continue to prepare for the fast approaching conference slate.
Josh Puga can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @jpuga1966 . Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.