It only took eleven seconds for the Miners to test their new post player out. Kareem Cooper caught a pass from Julyan Stone and banked it off the glass for the first two points, en route to a 111-76 victory against Sul Ross State at the Don Haskins Center.
"It was exciting, I couldn't wait for it to start," freshman guard Blaise Ffrench said. "Just glad we got the win."
Ffrench was one of three freshmen to play in the game against the Lobos. He ended the night with 7 points, 5 assists and no turnovers.
"I was trying to not turn the ball over because as a point guard that's the most important thing," Ffrench said. "I was just trying to lead the team and do a good job."
A tough task for any freshmen, but as sophomore guard/forward Gabe McCulley said, the young guys aren't the only ones with pressure – veterans have to shake off the rust as well in their first game. Fortunately it didn't take long.
"Once you get on the floor and get a couple of runs, the jitterbugs start to go away…everything relaxes," McCulley said.
Relaxing was the last thing on the minds of the UTEP basketball team in the first half though. After four minutes ticked off the clock, the Miners found themselves tied at eight with Sul Ross. Following a much-needed media timeout, senior guard/forward Stefon Jackson weaved his way through the Lobos defense and scored a lay-up, giving the Miners a 10-8 lead.
After Jackson's score, UTEP outscored Sul Ross State 43-24, going into halftime with a 51-32 lead. The Miners shot 57 percent from the field on 20-of-35 shooting.
After the break, the Miners continued their scorching shooting, behind freshmen Jason Jones and Arnett Moultrie. The duo combined to score 27 points and grab ten rebounds en route to the Miners 35-point victory.
"I think we played real well, we've been practicing real good so we've been expecting to play well," Ffrench said. "Practices have been tough and real intense, it's been long and we couldn't wait to play."
Head coach Tony Barbee said the team played well, especially when it came to passing the ball around.
"We were very, very unselfish, that's what I like about this team," Barbee said. "You talk about 30 assists, guys were playing for each other…nobody's out there playing for stats."
Regardless of statistics, coach Barbee had plenty of praise for Moultrie and Jones.
"Arnett, boy he's got a chance, he doesn't know how good he can be," Barbee said. "He does some unbelievable things on the floor for his size."
The Miners next game will be their first of the regular season, a home opener against Texas Southern at 7:05 p.m. at the Don Haskins Center.
"We've got a long way to go," Barbee said. "We talked about it in the locker room, we've got a long way to go and a long way to get better, but we have a lot to work with."
Below are a few notes and quotes from the post-game press conference.
A day off
When asked how practices and games compare, Ffrench had one explanation.
"This is like a day off compared to practice," Ffrench said. "Practice is real hard, two times worse than the games. I like playing the games."
"We we're waiting on some type of relief from practice," McCulley said. "It's been so intense; everybody has been going at each other's necks. We've been waiting to play someone, Sul Ross (State) just happened to be the lucky ones."
Working out the kinks
When asked what the teams weakness was, McCulley pointed to one aspect.
"I think we have to work on our defense a little more," McCulley said. "Coach stressed at the beginning of the season that defense was going to be key. He talked to us in the locker room, he said, "we gave up 80 points to Sul Ross.' That being said, we have to go back in and practice and work on defense a little bit more."
Coach Barbee felt the team could have taken better care of ball, especially on possessions in which players attempted an alley-oop, when a lay-up would have sufficed.
"We were a little bit sloppy, too unselfish at times trying to make what I call 'Heros plays,' making difficult plays," Barbee said. "That's why you end up with 23 turnovers."
Also, he said the Miners' lack of position on the defensive end led to the Lobos attempts on the free-throw line.
"To send them to the line for 44 free throws is inexcusable, we fouled way to much," Barbee said.
Carlos M. Silva Jr. is the publisher for MinerDigs.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.