Lee Moore scored 26 points and matched his career-high with nine assists in leading UTEP to its sixth consecutive victory, 91-80 over LA Tech on Saturday afternoon at the Haskins Center.
Terry Winn posted his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds and has shot 12-for-12 from the floor over the last two games. The Miners trailed for only one minute and 16 seconds and built leads of as many as 23 points before holding off a late rally by the Bulldogs.
“That’s a good basketball team that we played,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “[Assistant Coach] Phil Johnson has added a lot to how we’re playing here late, playing smaller. Terry Winn has shown marked improvement for our team. Playing small, has he has to do a multitude of things in terms of flooding the post, going back and defensive rebounding it.”
The Miners shot a season-best 59.3 percent from the field, made 9-of-20 three-pointers and collected 22 assists.
“We are playing very unselfishly on the offensive end, which we love,” Floyd said. “I think that there was an issue with that, in terms of understanding when to and when not to, early for our team. We are actually handling the ball more and scoring it more. I think a player’s mindset is if you handle it less you’ll score more, but they’re really doing a nice job of moving the ball.”
The Miners (17-11, 9-6 C-USA) got down 9-5 early but went on a 15-5 run to assume a 20-14 lead. They closed the half with a 9-3 run and were up 50-36 after shooting 62.5 percent from the floor in the opening stanza.
UTEP took its biggest lead (82-59) on a jumper by Dominic Artis with 5:46 to play. LA Tech (20-7, 9-5 C-USA) answered with a 17-3 spurt to make it a nine-point game (85-76) with a little under a minute left. But Moore hit a couple of free throws, then a huge three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to put it out of reach.
Omega Harris chipped in with 15 points for UTEP. Dominic Artis had nine points, six rebounds and six assists, and Earvin Morris added seven points and seven boards as the Miners won the rebounding battle for a third consecutive game 36-28.
“Dominic Artis has probably made the most improvement of anybody on our club and I think he has always had the talent, it was just understanding what we want to do,” Floyd said. “He is getting us into play offensively and defensively.”
The Bulldogs shot 49.2 percent from the field, but more importantly 29.6 percent (8-for-27) from outside. In the first meeting between the teams on Jan. 31, LA Tech made 12-of-27 three-point attempts.
“Our zone helped us tonight,” Floyd said. “They didn’t shoot it quite as well as they had over in Ruston when we saw them earlier. We did a really nice job on [Alex] Hamilton in the first half. He kind of got it going in the second half. You can see why he’s one of the better players in our league.”
Hamilton scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half.
Moore finished 8-for-13 from the field, 4-for-7 from three and 6-for-6 from the line.
“Lee had a terrific offensive game,” Floyd said. “I’m not just talking about the shots that he made. At halftime he had six assists and one turnover and started the second half with a penetration and a dump off to Terry Winn for a layup. Dominic didn’t shoot it great, but I thought he was outstanding just keeping us organized.
“Our team is growing. I thought Omega had a couple of really big plays for us in the second half. A three, and then a terrific finish in the open court where he came to the other side of the rim and showed his burst, showed his speed. We’re hard to guard when we get into the open floor just because we do have speed, we do have guys who can shoot it and drive it. It has taken us a while to figure that out.”
The Miners’ six-game winning streak, which matches their season long, has coincided with going to a four-guard lineup with Artis, Harris, Moore and Earvin Morris.
“With the four guards, what we’re doing, it’s coach Johnson’s point that let’s just get our five best players out here in terms of moving the ball and this and that,” Floyd said. “What it’s done is we’ve really been able to space the floor, and the spacing is tough for teams. Typically we’ve got a couple of bigger guys out there guarding our smaller guys, and they’ve been able to get by and kick to a teammate, or get by and get to the rim. Or the big guys sometimes are late closing and it has really helped us. Terry [Winn] has been very unselfish on the inside kicking it back out, which he really wasn’t doing early. He’s finding that he’s scoring more points because it’s coming back around to him off of dump offs.”
The Miners moved into fifth-place in the C-USA standings, a half game behind LA Tech and a half-game ahead of their next opponent, Old Dominion. UTEP will play at ODU Thursday (5 p.m. MT) and Charlotte Saturday (5 p.m. MT) as it completes its C-USA road schedule. Thursday’s game will be nationally televised on FOX Sports Network.
It promises to be a wild and wooly final three games of the regular season with three teams battling for the coveted fourth seed and bye in the league tournament.
“We’re not over the hump yet,” Floyd said. “We’re still giving up 49, 50 percent [from the field]. But we’re just taking great shots right now and we’re shooting for a high percentage. We’re shooting shots in rhythm, we’re not shooting dribble manufacture shots. All of that helps.”