El Paso, TX — Riding an eight-game winning streak – the ninth-longest in the country – the UTEP Miners will open a two-game homestand versus Florida Atlantic on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.
UTEP (18-6, 8-1 C-USA) will also host FIU on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Thursday is “Black Out Night” – fans are encouraged to wear black – and Saturday’s game will feature a special halftime performance by “America’s Got Talent” winner Olate Dogs.
“It’s always good to come back home and particularly after a win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I think we’re all feeling a little energy in the community right now. We expect a great crowd and I just hope we play well. We didn’t play particularly well the last time out at home against Rice. Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”
It took a game-ending 30-10 run for the Miners to close out the Owls, 68-57, on Feb. 1. Even so, UTEP has won eight of its last nine in the Haskins Center, including four straight over league opponents.
The Miners continued their winning ways on a road swing to East Carolina and Old Dominion over the weekend. UTEP allowed less than 50 points in consecutive road games for the first time since January of 1983, when it beat Air Force 60-49 and BYU 65-49.
Floyd was asked if he was surprised that UTEP has reeled off eight wins in a row after its roster was turned over in early January.
“I wouldn’t use the word surprised,” he said. “I think I’m not any different from our fans, where we’re sitting back and watching a group of young freshmen who we had two years ago grow up and mature and become very good college players. And we’re watching young guys get confidence. Everybody is playing well together, because all it’s about right now is winning. There are no personal agendas and they’re having a lot of fun playing together. And I’m sitting back like everybody else and saying ‘Ok, tomorrow is going to bring a new challenge. Can you handle it?’ Because it’s all a series of first with these guys.”
Florida Atlantic is coached by Mike Jarvis, who took George Washington to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 1993 and St. John’s to the Elite Eight of the “Big Dance” in 1999. He is the winningest coach in FAU history (sixth season with the Owls).
Florida Atlantic is led by senior guard Pablo Bertone (18.9 ppg), who leads Conference USA in scoring. He has ten 20-point games this season and scored 30+ points versus UCF (31), DePaul (30) and UAB (34). Junior center Justin Raffington is second in C-USA in rebounding (9.2 rpg), and junior forward Kelvin Penn is third in blocked shots (2.3 bpg). Raffington has nine double-doubles on the season.
“I haven’t seen these guys in person, and we’re getting to know the two Florida schools this week on film,” Floyd said. “They have good scorers, they run great stuff, they’ve got a post guy who presents problems, and they’ve got a perimeter guy who’s averaging 18 points per game. They’ll present problems.”
Floyd is clearly enjoying this run, but is careful to put things in perspective.
“Any time you win it’s satisfying,” he said. “It’s the essence of what we try to do in coaching, is to win basketball games. You don’t tend to feel as good after losses as you do wins. We understand where we are, and we also understand that streaks present their own challenges when the assumption becomes that you’re perfect and you’re not making mistakes and you have no faults. We certainly still have faults and things that we need to work on to get better.”