The second round of the Battle of I-10 was a hard-fought contest as NM State (5-1) slipped past UTEP (2-4), 62-58, on Wednesday night in front of a loud and energetic Miner faithful at the Don Haskins Center.
NM State took an 11-point lead (44-33) in the second half after AJ Harris made a three-pointer at the 14:12 mark. The Aggies were on a 13-0 run after the Miners had taken a 33-31 lead after a good Paul Thomas jump shot.
But unlike the previous game on Nov. 9, the Miners fought back and made it an exciting contest for the 6,000-plus fans.
“We have made a lot of progress obviously with our group. There is still a lot of room to grow in a lot of different areas,” first-year UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said. “Again, I give my guys credit for battling back. Two weeks ago, 11 minutes to go, and they go on a run we are probably not withstanding that. So, we have grown in that regards to know it is a long game, and that there are still a lot of possessions in this game and that this game is still a long way from being over. We put ourselves in position to win the game down the stretch now you have to execute down the stretch.”
Kaosi Ezeagu brought the Miners within five points (47-42) after he threw down a thunderous dunk at the 9:59 mark that got everyone in the out of their seats. Ezeagu, who led the Miners with nine rebounds, played great defense down the stretch that helped keep the Miners in the contest. He chipped in with four points and a steal.
Evan Gilyard, who led the Miners with 18 points, brought his squad within four points (49-45) after he connected on a pair of free throws at the 8:50 mark. And for every Aggie made basket, the Miners would answer with their own.
Efe Odigie, UTEP’s other double-digit scorer (12 points) on the night, connected on a mid-range jumper in the paint to make the score 54-50 with just over six minutes remaining in the contest. Fellow freshman Nigel Hawkins, after a made jump shot by Ivan Aurrecoechea, was good on a layup to make the count 56-52 with under five minutes remaining in the contest.
The Miners would then get within two points on two occasions. Odigie used his soft touch to connect on another midrange jumper on the baseline, making the score 56-54 at the 3:51 mark. And after a made lay in by Harris, Gilyard drove to the bucket and made a layup, getting UTEP within a pair of points (58-56) with under two minutes remaining in the contest.
But the Aggies made plays down the stretch, as Terrell Brown was good on a jump shot with 15 seconds remaining, boosting his team up four points. Odigie made another mid-range jumper with six seconds to go off an assist from Hawkins, but Brown, after being fouled, connected on his two free throw attempts to put the game away.
“I tip my hat to my guys in terms of their effort and obviously, the resilience that they showed to hang in there against some adversity,” Terry said. “To continue to battle back and keep putting ourselves in position to have an opportunity to be successful. At the end of the day like I say to our guys we play to win, we do not play to play close. When we get a little taste of that, and we get a feel for that and what that all takes then this group will continue to take steps forward.”
The Miners found themselves down 28-26 at the half after they had led by five points (24-19) after Hawkins made a layup at the 3:42 mark. But the Aggies finished the half on a 9-2 run.
Ountae Campbell was made eligible prior to the contest and played 15 minutes in his UTEP debut. The transfer from Fresno State made a three-pointer and drew a charge during the first half. Hawkins scored six points, while Jordan Lathon put in eight points. Thomas chipped in with five points and Kobe Magee scored two points.
UTEP will host Northwestern State on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald Post
While the initial information was provided by either UTEP or UTEP Athletics, it has been reviewed and copy-checked by a Herald-Post editor. In some cases, the text has been reformatted for better readability.