EL PASO – It was another tough, gritty win for the UTEP basketball team.
After a 89-88 loss to Santa Clara the Miners buckled down on defense, defeating UT-Pan American 60-42 Friday night at the Don Haskins Center.
"We've been working on it (defense)," sophomore guard Gabriel McCulley said. "That's something we work on 85 to 90 percent in practice. Coach tells us if we want to get to the NCAA Tournament, be a special team, it's not going to come from our offense."
The game was an offensive struggle and that showed in the box score. After averaging more than 30 points per game in the first half, the Miners were held to 26, but allowed 23 to the Broncos.
Senior guard Stefon Jackson, who scored a career high 44 points in the previous contest, didn't shoot well (5-for-13, 38 percent), but he made up for that with a stellar (6-for-9, 66 percent) performance from the free throw line. McCulley and freshman Arnett Moultrie chipped in 13 and 10 points, respectively.
UTEP head coach Tony Barbee, who felt his team lacked energy in the first stanza, brought a new vigor in the second. His new attitude gave the Miners a defensive swagger in which the team caused two 35-second violations on the Broncos and scoring the first 6 points of the half. The run finished after UT-Pan American forward Emmanuel Jones made a layup.
"Great defense, I love it, I love it," Barbee said. "That's what we have to be about to take the next step."
But the praise was followed by a challenge from the third-year coach to his players in terms of playing great defense in order to make it to postseason play.
"If I got to act that way, I don't care who whose mad – they can leave and transfer. I want guys that want to be coached and want to play that way because it's the only way you win."
UTEP ended the half outscoring the Broncos 34-19 en route to a 60-42 win.
The Broncos (4-9) had two players score in double figures, Nick Weiermiller and Jones scored 16 and 10 points respectively. UT-Pan American was held to 29 percent shooting for the game.
The Miners will travel to Albuquerque, N.M. for a Jan. 6 game against New Mexico. The Lobos (9-5) will play UNLV Jan. 3 before playing the Miners.
Post Game Woes
UTEP's post players struggled to shoot against UT-Pan American. In the first half the Miners shot 22 percent, compared to the Broncos. UT-Pan American's tallest players in the game were Emmanuel Jones and Luis Varela, standing 6-feet 7 inches.
"I challenged our big guys in the locker room," Barbee said. "No disrespect to Texas-Pan American, I know Tom, he's does a great job and has a very good team, but we've got a significant height and athletic advantage…our post guys have got to be better than what they're playing on the offensive end. It cannot be the Randy and Stefon show."
The post players came out in the second half inspired, shooting 9-for-18, 50 percent, for the game. The Miners barely outrebounded the Broncos 37-36.
Center Wayne Portalatin and Kareem Cooper were not in the lineup, nor on the UTEP bench against UT-Pan American. The players were suffering flu-like symptoms.
"There's a virus running through our team," Barbee said. "It knocked out Issac, Randy and knocked out Wayne the worst, he's been out four or five days and it knocked Kareem. It is what it is but we've got a deep team. We can sustain some sickness, illness, not for long."
Tavaris Watts was not wearing the black protective brace during the UT-Pan American game. The senior forward said he's feeling much better since injuring the knee in the first game of the season.
"It's feeling 100 percent," Watts said.
- For the second straight game Culpepper came off the bench, scoring 5 points.
- Freshman Chano Rashiduddin made his home debut against UT-Pan American. The freshman had two rebounds and an assist in three minutes of play.
- The Miners had averaged 79.3 points per game in their 12 games prior to UT-Pan American. Friday night, UTEP scored 60 points.
Carlos M. Silva Jr. is the publisher for MinerDigs.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org