The dress rehearsals are in the books, and a UTEP men’s basketball team still searching for an identity will tip off the 2011-12 campaign at home versus UT San Antonio on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Miners polished off Sul Ross State, 76-60, on Saturday at the Haskins Center to square their exhibition record at 1-1. UTEP fell to Eastern New Mexico, 75-64, two nights earlier.
Ten players averaged between 19.5 and 22.5 minutes in the two exhibitions. Junior forward Malcolm Moore and freshman forward Cedrick Lang tied for the team lead by averaging 11.0 points per game, and Lang was the squad’s leading rebounder with an 8.5 average.
“We made some strides, made some improvements [from the first exhibition game to the second],” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We’ve got some guys who are a little more comfortable on the floor. We’re not a dominant rebounding team right now. We shot the ball a little bit better. I think we’re playing with a team that’s learning every day and still has a long way to go.”
The Miners shot 44.9 percent from the field and forced 46 turnovers in the two games, but had a -2.5 rebound margin and struggled at the charity stripe (37-for-69, 53.6 percent). The first shortcoming could be rectified with the return of sophomore center John Bohannon and senior forward Gabe McCulley. Bohannon will be back in the fold against UTSA after serving a two-game suspension, and McCulley was riding the stationary bike at practice on Monday as he continues to work his way towards a December return following surgery for a stress fracture in his leg.
UT San Antonio will pose a significant threat after posting a 20-14 record last season. The Roadrunners won the Southland Conference championship to advance to the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Alabama State (70-61) before bowing out to top seed Ohio State 75-46. UTSA hung with the mighty Buckeyes for most of the first half before Ohio State closed the frame with a 12-4 run.
UTSA returns four of its top five scorers – junior guard Melvin Johnson III (14.9 ppg), sophomore forward Jeromie Hill (13.4 ppg), senior forward Stephen Franklin (6.5 ppg) and senior guard Sei Paye (5.1 ppg).
“They’re a nice team,” Floyd said. “They’ve got a lot of players back from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament. They play good zone defense and it’s something we’ll have a chance to work on.”
Season tickets are on sale through Friday by calling (915) 747-6150. Individual tickets starting at $11 can be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234.