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El Paso, TX — The UTEP basketball team practiced for two hours on Wednesday afternoon, part of final preparations for the Battle 4 Atlantis which begins on Thursday.
The Miners (3-2) will take on Tennessee (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. MT to begin a run of three games in three days. The game will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network.
“We’re excited to be here,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said in his pre-tournament press conference. “It’s obviously a tremendous field. We’re a team that’s still searching a little bit for who we are. We are a team that’s still moving parts around in terms of our starting lineup, and we’ll probably make a change or two prior to our game against Tennessee.”
The Vols have won three straight games following a 67-63, season-opening loss at Xavier. Since then Tennessee has beaten USC Upstate (74-65), The Citadel (86-60) and Tennessee State (88-67), all at Thomas-Bowling Arena in Knoxville.
“Our opponent is formidable,” Floyd said. “It seems like a daunting task when you’re coming off a loss and playing a team picked to finish third in the Southeastern Conference.”
Senior guard Jordan McRae leads Tennessee, averaging 21.5 points per game. He shoots 51.9 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from the line. McRae scored a season-high 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting in Tennessee’s last game against Tennessee State.
Junior forward Jarnell Stokes chips in with 11.5 ppg and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton averages 10.8 ppg.
“They have very good big guys,” Floyd said. “They do a great job of posting and facing with their big guys. Their perimeter guys are experienced and seasoned and use the dribble, and can also shoot it.”
Senior forward Jeronne Maymon (8.5 ppg) and Stokes (8.3 rpg) have spearheaded the Vols’ rebounding efforts this season, combining to average 16.8 boards per contest. Tennessee’s rebound margin is +7.8 per game on the year. The Vols have outrebounded three of four opponents, the exception being Xavier (40-34).
“They’re going to put pressure on us with very strong man to man defense,” Floyd said. “That’s what [coach] Cuonzo Martin is known for.”
Floyd was asked what the expectations are for his team heading into the tournament.
“I guess like everybody else we’re trying to play for first,” he said. “I’m not going to sell our guys short. Coming off a loss or two, everybody’s records probably look a little better than ours right now. But we’re going to try to compete to win. That’s why you play the game.”
The Miners’ “daunting task” looks a little more manageable with McKenzie Moore back in the fold. UTEP’s leading scorer (14.0 ppg) is anticipated to be back for the matchup with the Vols after a one-game absence while recovering from a concussion.
“He is with us,” Floyd said. “I think we missed him in our last ball game against New Mexico State. He practiced limited [Monday], and full scale yesterday. I would expect him to play unless he has a setback.”
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