EL PASO, Texas - Since Tim Floyd took over the men's basketball team in 2010, his season openers have never come as an easy task. And for the past two years, that translated into a loss.
Now in his third year as head coach, Floyd is looking to get his first season opening win against an Oral Roberts, a squad that went 27-7 last year, Friday night at the Don Haskins Center.
"(Oral Roberts) plays like an experienced team. They play like a team that won 27 games, even though they lost some players off that team," Floyd said.
The Golden Eagles are returning five players, including two starters from that team, which ended their season in the opening round of the NIT to Nevada. Senior guard Warren Niles who is the only player that averaged double figures last year leads them.
Oral Roberts is also bringing in redshirt freshman guard Korey Billbury, a player that head coach Scott Sutton said could have started on last year's team. But Floyd said he is more worried about defending the Golden Eagles near the basket.
"Oral Roberts seems to be a very inside-oriented team so our defense needs to focus on limiting post catches, try to keep them off the line, try to make them a perimeter team," Floyd said. "Everybody tries to do that to them but their execution is brilliant."
Senior guard Jacques Streeter agreed, praising their offensive effectiveness but also emphasizing the importance of picking up the first win of the season in the first game.
"You always want to get started out with the first win at home in the opener … you're going to have a lot of intensity, a lot of guys just anxious to get out there and defend our home court," Streeter said.
UTEP dropped their season opener last year to UT-San Antonio of the Southland Conference, the same league Oral Roberts and formerly of the Summit League. It wasn't the start Floyd was looking for and this year's opener will be just as big of a challenge as Oral Roberts is picked to win their league this year. UTEP is 30-4 against the Southland Conference but went 1-2 against them last year.
Floyd said his team is already looking better than they were heading into their first game of the season, especially Streeter, who finished with 11 points in their only preseason game, a 70-63 victory against Southeastern Oklahoma State University Nov. 3.
"I liked the energy of Jacque defending the ball and getting us into a play," Floyd said. "I thought his decision making was far ahead of where it was this time a year ago."
Despite the positives, UTEP's victory came with a loss, as senior guard Konnor Tucker left the game in the second half after diving for a loose ball. According to UTEP Athletics, he fractured his right hand and could be out for 6-8 weeks.
Floyd said this just means his rotation will have to adjust and players such as freshman guard/forward Twymond Howard and sophomore guards Jalen Ragland and C.J. Cooper will get more playing time at the shooting-guard position.
"That's pretty much all we've got…We just have to work better on the offensive end and figure out what our rotation is going to be," Floyd said.