St. Mary’s Loss Conjures Up Familiar Struggles for UTEP
Let me preface this by saying it is very early in the 2020-21 college basketball season and a lot can happen between now and March, including the season getting suspended as COVID numbers rise around the country. That being said, Miners fans saw a men's basketball team last night that reminded them of every other UTEP squad they have watched over the last 10 years.
The team's extended scoring droughts, defensive shortcomings, and lack of adjustments were on full display as they could not overcome a St. Mary's team that looked polished, well disciplined, and in-sync all game long. It should not have come as much of a surprise since Randy Bennett is nearly unbeatable on his home court and his teams had been to the postseason 11 straight years prior to COVID canceling the season back in March. Still, the Gaels lost 72% of their scoring from the 2019-20 team, but you would have never known that while watching them dissect UTEP. Tommy Kuhse looked more like Bob Cousy as he set a career high in points and he never stopped taking it to the basket from the opening tip.
The Miners did a terrific job in taking away the 3-point shot that St. Mary's is known for and instead, UTEP forced the Gaels to beat them by driving to the basket and penetrating inside. That is exactly what they did throughout the 40-minutes of play, and they scored 42 of their 73 points in the paint while shooting 54% for the game. On the flip side, St. Mary's applied defensive pressure to the Miners and UTEP's shooting struggles were a major problem all game long. Newcomers Keonte Kennedy (2-11) and Jamal Bieniemy (1-10) could get nothing going offensively while Bryson Williams and Souley Boum once again carried the team offensively. Williams missed most of the first half with two fouls, and the team struggled to score without him.
Despite the 12-point loss, the Miners have only played three games this season. Things will not get any easier over the next seven days with tough road tests coming up Saturday against Arizona and next Wednesday against Arizona State. The Miners will need to reset and discover ways to score without relying on Williams and Boum to play one on one basketball in isolation. Newcomer Christian Agnew is still not eligible, so Kennedy, Bieniemy, and Kristian Sjolund will need to contribute more offensively. Three-point specialist Adam Hess did not play at all against St. Mary's despite the Miners' difficulties shooting the basketball. Tydus Verhoeven is still looking to expand his offensive repertoire, despite scoring six points on 3-3 shooting last night. Efe Odigie has completely remade his body and he had some good moments against the Gaels, but not enough to see extended minutes. Head coach Rodney Terry will need to maximize production from both big men to help take the pressure off of Williams and Boum. Until then, UTEP will need their new additions to come up big in these next two games so Miners fans do not feel like they are starring in the sequel to Groundhog Day.