EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP secured a 67-64 win over New Mexico State in the first meeting between the two teams of the 2022-23 season on Saturday night at the Don Haskins Center in front of a near capacity crowd of 11,315 fans.
New Mexico State has dominated the rivalry the last few years. Heading into the game, the Aggies had won 12 of the last 13 contests. UTEP’s win on Saturday was the program’s first win over New Mexico State since Nov. 2019.
UTEP’s defense was a key part in the Miners’ success in the first half. UTEP forced New Mexico State to turn over the ball 13 times, which was something NM State head coach Greg Heiar said his team would be hoping to avoid heading into the game.
“I thought they outplayed us in all the aspects. We talked about going into the game we had to take care of the ball, we had to rebound the basketball, and we were just way too loose with the basketball,” said Heiar. “The stats are pretty even but the eye test of watching the game I just thought we got out played.”
UTEP scored 12 points off NMSU’s 13 turnovers in the first half. UTEP was led by Tae Hardy and Ze’Rik Onyema in the first frame of the game, as Hardy racked up 10 points and Onyema tacked on 8. Meanwhile, New Mexico State’s Xavier Pinson scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field.
UTEP entered halftime with a 39-31 lead over New Mexico State.
In the second half, UTEP managed to jump out to a 13-point lead after a Ze’Rik Onyema free throw with 10:35 left in the game. The Miners were able to keep the Aggies at a safe distance for the rest of the game. New Mexico State got as close as six before Issa Muhammad hit a three pointer at the buzzer to make it a three-point game.
UTEP had three players score in double digits. Tae Hardy (14 points), Ze’Rik Onyema (13 points), and Mario McKinney Jr. (10 points) were the leading scorers for the Miners. McKinney Jr. provided UTEP with a spark off the bench in the second half. Eight of McKinney Jr.’s 10 points on the night came in the second half. McKinney Jr. had 10 of UTEP’s 24 bench points.
New Mexico State was led by the backcourt duo of Xavier Pinson and Deshawndre Washington when it came to scoring. Pinson put up 20 points (8-18 FG, 2-6 3PT, 2-3 FT) and Washington had 18 points (9-17 FG, 0-2 3PT, 0-0 FT).
The rebounding battle was even at 35 total rebounds on the night for both teams. Both teams also show the same field goal percentage. UTEP and New Mexico State shot 44.6% from the floor.
“We held them to four threes, that was our number one key on the board,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “Then we turned them over 20 times. NM State has kicked our butt. One game doesn’t change that, but it sure does feel good tonight. I’m happy for our fans and for our players. We’re going to enjoy tonight, I promise you that.”
UTEP had the edge when it came to free throws as they went 14-24 (58.3%) from the charity stripe. New Mexico State went 10-15 (66.7%) from the free throwline.
The game was tied only once and had four lead changes. UTEP held the lead for 38:39 of the contest, while NMSU led only for :33 seconds at one point.
This marked UTEP’s first win over New Mexico State in three years. Nov. 12, 2019 was the last time the Miners came out on the winning side of the rivalry on the hardwood.
“I’m happy for our players because they’ve worked extremely hard all summer and all fall,” Golding said. “They are really buying into what we are trying to get them to do. I thought we looked really good defensively tonight for the most part. I thought we had a great crowd tonight and a great student turnout. New Mexico State has dominated this series, there’s no secret to that. They’ve got great players, coaches and fanbases, but we got one (tonight). We’re excited to get the win.”
As for New Mexico State, this is a game that Heiar and his squad will look at in order to continue developing as the season goes.
“We are just trying to find each other and learn how to play the game the right way,” said Heiar. “This is going to be a great game for us to break down film, and to get better going into next week’s game. It doesn’t get any easier at New Mexico.”
UTEP (1-1, 0-0 C-USA) and New Mexico State (1-1, 0-0 WAC) will meet again on Nov. 30. Next time the game will be played at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.