Bryson Williams (29 points), Jamal Bieniemy (24 points) and Keonte Kennedy (22 points) led the scoring charge as UTEP (6-3, 2-1 Conference USA) used hot shooting and more ball security to defeat Rice (8-3, 2-1 C-USA), 101-89, on Friday night in front of 459 energetic fans at the Haskins Center.
Bieniemy scored a collegiate career high on 9-of-14 shooting while adding a team-high six assists with a blocked shot and steal. Kennedy hit his career best on 9-of-16 shooting with seven boards and a career-high five assists.
Williams scored his season high on 11-of-18 shooting, led UTEP with eight rebounds, and tallied two assists with a pair of steals.
“Coming into this game, we knew we had to guard hard and get some stops,” third-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “The thing we said all year long, if we’re able to get stops and get out and play fast, we’re a handful to deal with when we’re in transition.”
UTEP set season highs in field percentage (54.3), three pointers made (12) and three-point field goal percentage (42.9). The Miners turned the ball over only four times and seven in the last two games. The Miners also forced 11 turnovers with six steals, while outscoring the Owls, 26-7, off turnovers.
Tydus Verhoeven came up with another double-figure game, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and blocked two shots. Verhoeven has been efficient, shooting 74.4 percent from the field this season.
For the first time this season, UTEP officials allowed fans to attend a men’s hoops’ game.
“One thing that been missing this year is not having our community to get a chance to see this group play,” Terry said. “My guys have a great competitive spirit about themselves, they enjoy playing and they care. Hopefully we have a good buy-in with the community wanting to get behind this group and support them.”
And the fans were in for a treat, as the Miners came out firing. UTEP hit five of its first six three-point attempts to build a 21-9 lead at the 15:07 mark. However, the Owls fought back as Cavit Havsa’s basket gave Rice a 27-26 lead. After Verhoeven gave UTEP a 30-29 edge on a turnaround jumper in the paint, Travis Evee’s three gave Rice a 32-30 advantage. Souley Boum converted a three-point play at the 6:00 mark that gave his squad a 33-32 lead and the Miners never looked back.
UTEP’s 101 points on Friday night was the first 100-point game against a C-USA program since Feb. 4, 2016 when UTEP defeated Marshall, 112-108.
Bieniemy, Kennedy and Williams were the first trio of Miners to hit over 20 points in the same game since Feb. 22, 2000 when Roy Smallwood (25 points), Jarvis Mullahon (23), Brandon Wolfram (23) did so.
Rice, which shot 55.6 percent from the floor, was led by Max Fielder’s 22 points and seven assists. Evee added 21 points, while Riley Abercrombie tallied 14 points.
UTEP outrebounded Rice, 31-24, while dishing out 18 assists.
Up next, UTEP will host Rice for a second straight night on Saturday. The Miners and Owls will tipoff at 7 p.m. in the Haskins Center. Fans can listen live on 600 ESPN El Paso and the UTEP Miners app with “The Voice of the Miners” Jon Teicher calling the action.
The contest will also be streamed on ESPN+ with KVIA’s Erik Elken (play-by-play) and UTEP hoops great Leonard Owens (color analysis) with the call.
Gallery by Ruben R. Ramirez – El Paso Herald Post