EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP and New Mexico State are ready for round two of the Battle of I-10 this season when they face off at the Pan American Center on Wednesday night.
UTEP (5-1) comes into this game on fire with a five-game winning streak. One of those wins early this season was one against New Mexico State. UTEP secured a 67-64 win over NM State at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 12. for its first victory in the series since the 2019-20 season.
This time around, the Miners will head into enemy territory as they will take the trip to Las Cruces and play New Mexico State in the Pan American Center.
“I got to play in Las Cruces last year and I understand what a great home court advantage they have,” UTEP men’s basketball head coach Joe Golding said. “There is a reason they’ve won so many games at home. Their fans are passionate, they care about their Aggies, and they want to beat UTEP. There is no secret to that, so we are going to have to play our best game up to the point of the year to have success over there.”
The Pan American Center has been a difficult place for UTEP to win at. UTEP is 0-10 in their last 10 meetings with NM State at the Pan American Center. The last time UTEP beat NM State at the Pan American Center was Nov. 30, 2010, when UTEP grabbed a 74-72 win.
UTEP is led by Tae Hardy who is averaging 11.8 points per game. Otis Frazier III is right behind him as he averaged 10.2 points per game. Frazier is a “50/50” to play against New Mexico State on Wednesday, according to Golding. Frazier “was a little sore” coming out of their last game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Nov. 25.
If Frazier is out, the Miners will still be able to fall on the scoring of others. Five other players on the team are averaging about 7 to 10 points per game. Ze’Rik Onyema (9.8 ppg), Mario McKinney Jr. (9.8 ppg), Jamari Sibley (8.2 ppg), Shamar Givance (7.5 ppg) and Calvin Solomon (7.2 ppg).
On defense, forcing turnovers and protecting the three-point line has been UTEP’s strength. UTEP is averaging 19.5 turnovers per game from their opponents, which is the second most in Conference USA and 15th in the NCAA. UTEP has been stingy at shutting down opponents from 3-point range, with foes shooting 25.5 from beyond-the-arc. That effort is first in Conference USA and 16th in the nation.
UTEP is gearing up for another close game against New Mexico State. Three of UTEP’s wins this year have been by five points or less. Golding believe the team’s biggest pop right now is their ability to grind out games.
“The most important thing that I think this team has right now is they grind games out and figure out a way to win,” Golding said. “A lot of college basketball teams can’t do that. Whether it is pretty sometimes or not, there is a winner and a loser, and this team is figuring out how to win.”
UTEP will hope to come out on the winning side against a New Mexico State team that is seeking revenge from their previous meeting.
New Mexico State (2-2) enters Wednesday’s game looking for a win after splitting their two games at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic over the weekend.
Their games against San Diego and UC Irvine were the first since the deadly shooting at the University of New Mexico campus that involved NMSU men’s basketball player Mike Peake on Nov. 19. The Aggies were glad to return to some sense of normalcy of playing basketball games since the incident.
“We move forward by taking it one day at a time, one game at a time, one play at a time and communicating to these guys what our culture is about,” New Mexico State men’s basketball head coach Greg Heiar said. “It is about doing the right things, acting the right way, playing the right way. We have to keep talking to them about that because they are 18 to 23-year-old young men so you have to continue to preach about what our culture is about. That is what we are going to do and just build on that.”
Despite strong words about Peake’s involvement in the shooting, Heiar, in his first press conference since the incident, reiterated that Peake was still enrolled at NMSU and a member of the Aggies basketball team. NMSU officials told the media the same thing last week.
Sources told KTSM that Peake is still hospitalized as of Tuesday afternoon, but his condition has improved.
That has left the Aggies with having to make some changes to their line up with Peake, their starting power forward the first two games of the season, out for the foreseeable future.
“I am going to move Issa Muhammad to the four and play him with JB [James Beck] and Shak [Shakiru Odunewu] and go a little bit bigger,” Heiar said. “We played four guards too and that is probably our most effective line up was when [Xavier] Pinson, [Deshawndre] Washington, [DaJuan] Gordan, [Anthony] Roy, and either [Issa] Muhammad, James Beck or Shakiru Odunewu.”
“With our style of play, we can go big, we can go small but a lot of it is going to have to do with our opponent,” Heiar said. “Sometimes we will make our opponent match up to us. That four-guard lineup was really good in Vegas, and it was a big plus for the weekend so I know it is something we can go to moving forward.”
LSU transfer Xavier Pinson leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and minutes (31.8 mpg) while rating second in assists (5.0 apg-2nd WAC/64th NCAA). Deshawndre Washington (13.5 ppg) and Issa Muhammad (12.0 ppg), who both starred for Heiar at Northwest Florid State College join Pinson in double figures for scoring, as does Anthony Roy (10.0 ppg).
New Mexico State is hoping that their experience playing UTEP at the Don Haskins Center earlier this month will help them get over the hump to get the win on Wednesday night.
“The last time we played UTEP, I learned a lot about our team,” Heiar said. “That was the real first resistance that we got. Hopefully we can see the improvements that we made tomorrow night.”
New Mexico State and UTEP will face off Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time.