The UTEP Miners came out of the gates in Friday’s rivalry game looking hell-bent on not only snapping their seven-game losing streak to the New Mexico State Aggies but despite to earn an early signature win in the Rodney Terry era.
Despite taking an early nine-point lead and making five out of their first six 3-point attempts, the young Miners (starting four underclassmen) were unable to stay hot from the floor and eventually were overpowered by an NM State team that still looks much more talented than the rebuilding Miners 96-69 inside the Pan American Center.
NM State (2-0) has found a new way to generate offense, using a much-more balanced attack to attack opposing defenses. Five different Aggies finished the night in double figures, led by junior guard Clayton Henry, who scored a team-high 14 points in the game on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor.
“We are going to have to pitch in every day as a whole team – we are a team of 10 or 11 deep, so we all have to come with it every night because there’s not one guy this year,” Henry said. “I have been working since I came here, working since I was in juco and it all paid off right now.”
The Miners (1-1) were playing hard early, silencing the crowd with a two minute and 32 second stretch that saw UTEP nail five consecutive 3-pointers, surging to a nine-point lead before the Aggie faithful were even able to get comfortable in their seats.
After that point, the well began to dry up for the Miners and the Aggies were able to surge back into the game, coming back and tying up the game at 33 with a Keyon Jones 3-pointer. NM State took the lead moments later and never relinquished it again.
“UTEP was ready to go and punched us in the mouth – I thought our guys were a little caught up with the crowd and the uniforms (NM State wore special-edition white uniforms with crimson lettering and baby blue trim to commemorate the Pan Am’s 50th anniversary),” head coach Chris Jans said, who improved his record against the Miners to 3-0. “Give credit to coach Terry and their staff. They had them ready to go and we couldn’t stop them.
“. … that was the first time we have held to deal with adversity, so we righted the ship and obviously got the win in the end.”
Jans spoke after Tuesday’s win about how he believed his team would be one that shots a lot of 3-pointers. After a 5-of-26 performance in their season-opening win from behind the arc, the Aggies found their stroke, going 11-of-26 from deep. NM State’s ability to make the 3-point shot led to UTEP extending their defense, leading to more driving lanes and post up opportunities for the Aggies.
After just 10 points in the paint in the first half, NMSU upped that number to 22 in the second half, leaning on the physicality of Ivan Aurrecoechea and the sweet stroke of CJ Bobbitt to swell their lead to as much as 25.
All in all, the balanced attack was too much for the undermanned Miners and it appears that NM State will continue on this season getting production from a variety of players – rather than leaning on just one guy as the team so often did last year with Zach Lofton.
“I have talked about it leading up to the season that I think it’s going be a team that doesn’t have a big gap between the first and second or second and third all the way down in scoring and rebounding,” Jans said. “That’s what I’m used to and I have no problem with that and I prefer that to be honest with you.”
The Aggies will now prepare to host Saint Mary’s on Wednesday at 7 p.m. inside the Pan American Center.
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