UTEP Coach Tim Floyd spent time dissecting the Miners’ meltdown at UAB on his weekly radio show before shifting focus to a pivotal three-game homestand that starts on Saturday against Tulane.
The Miners committed 21 turnovers against the Blazers, couldn’t get defensive stops down the stretch and, most significantly, missed 15 of 29 free throws, including several in the last two minutes of regulation. UAB won the game 78-72 in overtime after the Miners had built a 15-point second half lead.
“I am just blown away with what happened yesterday,” Floyd said on Thursday night. “You had a team in UAB that made a lot of really good plays in the final 12 minutes of the game, and we made our share of bad plays. Free throws are a killer and they are a momentum shifter. In fact, I think a missed dunk is the equivalent of a guy missing the front end of a one and one. As coaches, we get on players really hard about carelessness and turning the ball over, but we don’t tend to get on them about missed free throws.”
The Miners’ struggles at the charity stripe on the two-game road trip came as a complete surprise to Floyd. After all, UTEP left for Greenville shooting just under 70 percent from the line on the season.
“I don’t know anybody that worked harder at the free throw line over the course of the last 10 days than the UTEP Miners,” he said. “We really went at it hard. We had competition games. We had concentration games. We didn’t feel good about Chris [Washburn] shooting them at the end of the game, and he struggled, but he wasn’t the only one. Everybody missed them. And then we combined it with turnovers. But there were other poor plays as well. There were a couple of fouls down the stretch with a one-point deficit where all you needed to do was go trust your defense and guard, and we reached out and grabbed and fouled.
“That’s part of the game on the road. You need to overcome those things, and we didn’t do it. It’s certainly a miserable feeling, and we let one get away from us.”
Floyd also spent some time analyzing the art of foul shooting.
“I do think there’s a skill level involved with it,” he said. “We really spent time [working on it] with our guys over the last 10 days. In fact, I told our coaches I’m never working on it again. We shot terrible at East Carolina and UAB. We were shooting 70 percent going into those games.
“I think there are ebbs and flows with it. I think it can become very mental with players. You need to concentrate on your habit and your routine. That’s what we try to do. Right now I’m afraid of it becoming more mental than anything else and missing them the rest of the season. I’d like to just get back to guys shooting them on their own, shooting them with rhythm and we’ll concentrate really hard on it during the offseason.”
Despite the disappointment of Wednesday’s loss, the Miners find themselves in good position with half their C-USA road schedule in the books and three home games looming against the Green Wave, Rice (Wednesday) and Tulsa (Saturday, Feb. 9).
Floyd, however, is wary of Tulane, a team that he billed as top-3 in the conference a month ago. The Green Wave has struggled with a 2-4 league mark, but has held double-digit leads at one point in each of its last four games, including at Memphis on Jan. 22.
“They will come in here and play a style of play that’s troublesome for us,” Floyd said. “Whether they’re home or on the road they’re going to control tempo, they’re going to handle the ball, and they’re going to absolutely guard you by having five guys sit in the lane. That will make it difficult for our basketball team.”
The Green Wave has posted a 2-3 record since dropping its C-USA opener to UTEP, 66-57, on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
“I thought we play really inspired team ball in that game,” Floyd said. “Konner Tucker got us started by hitting a couple of threes. We got another three from Jacques Streeter. We did a great job on the defensive end. There was a matchup that we were worried about with Tucker on [Jordan] Callahan, but he did a great job.”
Junior forward Josh Davis leads Conference USA in scoring (17.5 ppg), rebounding (10.2 rpg) and double-doubles (11). Sophomore guard Ricky Tarrant, the 2012 C-USA Freshman of the Year, has stepped up his game in league play, averaging a team-high 17.5 points. Tulane also has a couple of 1,000-point scorers in Callahan, a senior guard (10.8 ppg), and senior guard/forward Kendall Timmons (7.1 ppg).
The Green Wave has held opponents to 59.1 points per game this season. Tulane has outrebounded its last three opponents (Memphis, Rice, UCF) and has a +5.9 rebound margin on the year. The Green Wave is second in C-USA in both scoring defense and rebound margin.
“They have two kids who may very well be first team All-League in Ricky Tarrant and Josh Davis,” Floyd said. “We’re going to have to do the job again, have a repeat performance.”