10 Things That Impressed Me from UTEP Basketball’s Season Opening Win Over WNMU
The Joe Golding era tipped off on Tuesday night, as the Miners men's basketball squad blew past Western New Mexico in a 28-point win (85-57).
The 6,751 fans in attendance were the most for a home opener in six years. Fans were greeted with a different brand of basketball and fans witnessed a new squad that features a mix of returners and newcomers.
Before I get to the positives, let's talk about a few things the team can work on ahead of Saturday's road matchup against NM State. Despite forcing 26 turnovers, the Miners had 18 turnovers of their own in this matchup. They were also edged out on the boards, 40-39. They did a nice job shooting on Tuesday, with splits of 50% FG, 42.9% 3-point FG and 57.9% FT.
“Game day was awesome. The crowd was great and there was a lot of energy, especially when we went on a couple of runs,” Golding said. “I’m very thankful to the city of El Paso. It feels great (to get the first win). It was exciting to be out there, and I’m humbled and thankful to be the head coach.”
In case you missed MinerTalk from last night, we have you covered:
Here are 10 things that stood out to me from the opening win.
1. The new Jamal Bieniemy is here
Last season, Jamal Bieniemy averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 assists in 23 games played for the Miners. He was primarily a pass-first point guard for the team, but the team saw his production decrease over last year.
Over the offseason, the new coaching staff was extremely high on Bieniemy transforming himself into an impact guard. The Oklahoma transfer looked the part in the first outing and the most noticeable attribute he brought was his shooting. Bieniemy was getting any shot he wanted against WNMU, finishing with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 5-for-9 beyond the arc. Once Souley Boum gets back from his injury, the two in the backcourt will make a lethal tandem.
Bieniemy shot 37.2% from the floor and 31% from 3-point range last year. I think this year he has a chance to raise his numbers significantly.
He also finished with four assists, four assists and three turnovers in his opener.
2. Emmanuel White's offensive potential
As a redshirt in 2020-21, Emmanuel White was a bit of an unknown going into this year. However, the 6-foot-5 redshirt junior's talents were on display against the Mustangs for everyone to take notice.
White is a silky guard that has a clean jumper. He fits the role of a backup shooting guard and he went 3-for-5 with 7 points in 17 minutes last night, including two assists, two turnovers and one steal. He could be a nice backup to Boum off the bench.
3. Bonke Maring's two-way ability
One of the storylines heading into this year was finding a fifth starter alongside Tydus Verhoeven in the paint. Last night, Blinn College transfer Bonke Maring got the first crack at the role and he looked well developed in this system.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore from Cypress, Texas, possesses significant two-way potential. His size makes him desirable as a scorer inside the paint. If he can get more aggressive on the glass, Maring will continue to progress nicely with this squad. There might be inconsistencies in his game down the line. Coach Golding mentioned his desire to shoot an outside jumper, but the coaching staff maintains that his presence is best felt when he's scoring inside the paint.
Maring finished with eight points, three rebounds and one steal in 14 minutes for the squad.
4. Keonte Kennedy's headband
UTEP wing Keonte Kennedy is back for his redshirt sophomore campaign under the direction of coach Golding. He was flying around on Tuesday, flexing his versatility on both ends.
Because of the aggressive man defense this squad plays, Kennedy could flourish defensively this year with his size and athleticism. He started in all 24 games for the squad last year and averaged 8.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest.
This year, the team believes Kennedy is a far better shooter than we saw last year. The best part about Kennedy is when his shot isn't falling—like his 3-of-11 shooting on Tuesday—he is still able to drive to the hoop and draw contact. Kennedy has the potential to go off for 20+ several times this year.
5. Souley Boum's new t-shirt
The Miners will likely get their All C-USA guard in Souley Boum back for Saturday's contest at NM State, although coach Golding was non-committal after the game. Boum dealt with a finger injury in the offseason that carried into the late part of October. The Oakland native believes he will be back by the rivalry game.
For now, let's appreciate Souley, aka "Buckets for Sale," and his newest shirt.
6. True freshman Kevin Kalu coming off the bench
Another pleasant surprise for this squad is true freshman big man Kevin Kalu. The Baltimore native was a late summer addition from Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School. He wasn't heavily recruited out of high school, though he was named Defensive Player of the Year in the city during his senior campaign after averaging 16 points, 16 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.
I'm buying all the Kalu stock for the long run.
Golding said that ideally, he would like to play five bigs. With Verhoeven, Maring, Jamari Sibley and Alfred Hollins as the four forwards in the rotation, Kalu seems to be in the driver's seat to grab that fifth spot. Kalu is raw, but his big body gives him a strong interior presence.
He already surpassed Ze'Rik Onyema in the forward rotation, which surprised some fans. Kalu finished with six points, five rebounds and one block in 13 minutes of his UTEP debut.
7. Tydus Verhoeven's shot blocking returns
Forward Tydus Verhoeven is the team's best overall defender and in an effortless performance on Tuesday, Verhoeven was able to get whatever he wanted defensively. He totaled three impressive blocks, including a blocked shot that sent the ball into the stands. In addition, Verhoeven chipped in with five boards, one steal and three points in just 13 minutes of play.
Verhoeven has some more muscle going into this year. The 6-foot-9 California native is listed at 225 pounds and he looked the part on Tuesday. Verhoeven is a special piece for this team and he will be key in the team's success this year.
8. Jamari Sibley's athleticism
The Georgetown forward came off the bench and flexed his versatility in the Miners' win. Sibley, who has four years of eligibility, played only sparingly for Georgetown this year. He will need to earn minutes off the bench and he will need to improve as a rebounder and defender as the season continues.
Sibley finished with a full stat sheet on Tuesday—six points, five rebounds, one assist, two steals and a block in 19 minutes off the bench.
9. The bench is hyped up after charges
When junior guard Christian Agnew took a charge in the home opener, the UTEP bench erupted in excitement. To wrap up the game, it was Gilles Dekoninck who drew a charge that sent the Miner bench in a frenzy.
This team likes hustle, effort and they expect their players to play hard. We'll see a lot of drawn charges as the season progresses.
10. Joe Golding's bench presence
Overall, Golding gave everyone a nice glimpse into his squad on Tuesday. He rotated players constantly. He brought intensity to his bench, and he also allowed associate head coach Jeremy Cox to coach in the huddle during periods. One could sense the pregame jitters with the squad as they embarked on a new era in the storied basketball history.
The offense is constantly moving and never stagnant. The defense guards players face-to-face, almost like a cornerback in football. It's a completely new brand of basketball that was brought to the table and the style excited a lot of Miner fans on Tuesday.