EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It’s hard to play two more different season openers than the games UTEP and New Mexico State played on Monday night to begin the 2022-23 regular season.
Joe Golding’s Miners went on the road to face No. 12 Texas in the first game at the new Moody Center, battling for much of the game and cutting the deficit to single digits in the second half, before bowing out, 72-57.
Meanwhile, the Aggies were never challenged in a 101-52 dismantling of New Mexico Highlands in Greg Heiar’s first game as New Mexico State’s new head coach.
They may have opposite records – and opposite styles of play – but opposites attract on Saturday night in the season’s first edition of the Battle of I-10.
The Miners and Aggies will face off again Nov. 30 in Las Cruces and could play a third time during the Sun Bowl Invitational in December. But this first meeting will have plenty of added weight to it.
UTEP is looking to sell out the Don Haskins Center as part of its 915 Campaign; as of Wednesday, over 9,000 of the Don’s 11,892 seats had been sold. The Miners are in search of their first win over New Mexico State since November, 2019, which is also UTEP’s only win in the series since 2014.
Golding said after Monday’s loss to Texas that losing 12 of 13 to their biggest rival won’t cut it; he’s looking for his first win in the Battle of I-10 series on Saturday night.
“We need to beat NMSU. I’m 0-2 against them and we need to change that. We need a great home court advantage on Saturday,” Golding said.
The Miners feel they came out of their game at Texas battle tested. UTEP played a much better second half after turning the ball over 14 times in the first half. Graduate transfer guard Shamar Givance helped UTEP calm down after the break.
UTEP also outrebounded Texas on Monday; second-chance points could be a huge deal for the Miners on Saturday at the Haskins Center. More than anything, they think the tough slate they’ve played – two scrimmages on the road vs. Tarleton and Texas Tech, plus the Texas game – has prepared them to open the home slate vs. the Aggies.
“I like the resiliency of our group, we faced a lot of adversity. We got in foul trouble and had an injury early, so there was a lot going on and we battled and didn’t quit,” Golding said. “We haven’t played in the Don yet and we’ve got a lot of new guys that haven’t had that experience yet. I know they’re excited to play in the Don.”
As for New Mexico State, Heiar has built a roster with plenty of pieces that appear capable of doing damage in the WAC and beyond. The Aggies had four player eclipse double figures in the season opener vs. NM Highlands and three other had seven or more points.
NMSU was led in the opener by junior college transfer point guard DeShawndre Washington, who had a triple-double in his Aggies debut – 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Heiar calls Washington his “Queen chess piece” and as such will move him all over the floor to utilize his skillset. Additionally, with the Aggies getting LSU transfer Xavier Pinson eligible on Monday via a waiver from the NCAA, that only adds to the versatility of the backcourt.
Pinson lit up the SEC for four seasons and brings a layer to NMSU that few mid-major teams have. Playing the two of them together is a priority for Heiar.
“They really gel well together. We’ve been playing them together in practice since June and they continue to get better. I would love to play three point guards together if I could,” Heiar said. “When you have guys like that it makes the dynamic easier for them to gel together.”
Gelling together is the name of the game for both teams; they each have over 10 new players on this year’s roster from a year ago.
This edition of the Aggies will certainly get their first taste of adversity on Saturday night at the Haskins Center, something Heiar said he’s very excited about. NMSU’s new man has been looking forward to seeing how his team will respond under pressure and this is the first opportunity.
“I know what I’ve got in there but they have to prove that that’s what they are. They’re going to get challenged and punched in the mouth and they’ll have to respond and come together,” Heiar said. “Some of these guys have never been in this intense of an environment ever in their lives and how will they respond to that? I’m excited to see that.”
New Mexico State still hasn’t heard back from the NCAA regarding a waiver request for Arizona transfer Kim Aiken Jr. as of Wednesday; he can’t play until they do.
As for UTEP, the Miners will likely be without forward Jon dos Anjos, who injured his knee vs. Texas. Golding didn’t have a concrete update on Wednesday, but the Miners expect him to miss some time.
Meanwhile, former Aggie-turned-Miner Mario McKinney was back at practice Wednesday after missing the Texas game for personal reasons. Golding said that if McKinney practices well in the lead-up to Saturday, he could play in the Battle of I-10.
UTEP and New Mexico State will tip off at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Don Haskins Center in the first edition of the Battle of I-10 for 2022-23.