Evan Gilyard recorded his first career double-double and Efe Odigie powered his way to a second consecutive double-double, leading UTEP (2-2) to a 66-59 victory over Eastern New Mexico on Monday night at the Don Haskins Center.
Though the Miners won, it wasn’t easy as the Greyhounds kept is close till the end.
“We’re going to be in ball games all year that are going to be close,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “I told our guys earlier in the year, we have to be the hardest playing, scrappiest team in the country in terms of how hard we have to play. We’ve done it before with teams in the past and the buy-in piece is we have to continue to do that every night. We’re not going to come in and outjump teams, but we can have physical block outs. Lowest man always wins, not the guy who jumps the highest. We have to continue to work on those areas of improvement, like taking care of the ball. We have to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Gilyard and Odigie came up with big performances, while combining for the game’s last six points that gave UTEP the seven-point victory.
Gilyard ripped down a career-high 11 rebounds (five offensive) and matched his career best with a season-high 29 points in 36 minutes. Gilyard, after averaging just over nine points per game his freshman campaign, has upped that number to 20.5 in the early going.
“You don’t just come out and score like that without putting any work into it,” Gilyard said. “I worked hard over the summer and I’ve been working on my craft since I started playing basketball. I try to prove people wrong and just work hard every day in the gym to have nights like this and be able to contribute to the team.”
Odigie amassed a season-high 17 boards and tallied 14 points. His transition from high school to college has been a challenge, but Odigie has responded by averaging over 15 points and over 10 rebounds per game in his first four collegiate contests.
“It’s been tough, especially the first couple months coming in to the college level,” Odigie said. “It’s way different from high school and getting used to the pace. But coach [Terry] has been talking to me every day about going hard in practice. Playing all these minutes makes everything easier and it’s slowing down. Being a freshman, I’m just trying to take advantage of the minutes I have now.”
The Miners were challenged as the Division II Greyhounds played them tough on the night.
After being down 33-27 at the half, ENMU came out of the locker room and went on an 18-7 run to take a 45-40 lead at the 15:37 mark after a tip-in by Chukuka Emili.
But after a timeout and encouraging words from Terry, the Miners responded with a 13-5 run to take a 53-50 lead after a Paul Thomas offensive rebound and put-back at the 9:22 mark. The run started with a Kaosi Ezeagu jumper in the paint, while the freshman tallied a layup to get UTEP within a point (45-44). After a made jump shot by Darius Sawyer, Thomas answered with a three-pointer to tie the ball game at 47-47.
Gilyard used one of his five offensive rebounds to draw a foul and then connect on a pair of free throws, giving his squad a two-point lead (49-47).
The Greyhounds made things interesting after tying the game 57-57 with under five minutes to play, while coming within a point on multiple occasions. After a good jumper by Bryce McAlister to make the score 60-59 at the 3:03 mark, UTEP scored the next six points to close out the ball game as Odigie made a trio of free throws down the stretch, and Gilyard connected on a free throw and jump shot to solidify the victory.
Gilyard not only played great offensively, but defensively, he showed toughness by drawing five charges.
“Evan spent a lot of time working in the gym and shooting the ball a lot,” Terry said. “We need him to score for us. Tim Floyd said when I took the job that, ‘you really don’t want him as a point guard, you want to make him a two, he’s really a two’. He’s a guy I really tried to challenge to want to be a two-way player because defensively, he can bring a little something to the table, especially on the ball. He’s getting better off the ball but he’s a fierce competitor. We needed him and the team to take charges because [ENMU] was going to try and attack the paint.”
The Miners outrebounded the Greyhounds 50-35, while recording 13 assists.
Kobe Magee dished out four of those dimes and hitting a three-point bucket during the first half in 29 minutes of action. Ezeagu came off the bench to score six points with three rebounds in nine minutes. Nigel Hawkins made his first start in front of the Miner faithful, scoring three points and leading the team with three steals. Jordan Lathon scored two points on a fast break dunk off an assist by Ezeagu in the second half. Thomas came up a point short of a double-double as he recorded 10 rebounds on the night.
Odigie also added a block and recorded his first career assists (three), playing a season-high 31 minutes.
“The big fellow has a different role [at UTEP] than what recruited him for [at Fresno State],” Terry said. “We recruited him as a developmental guy who we were going to bring along. He was going to play behind a lot of older players and he wasn’t going to be a focal point of what we’re doing. But you fast forward and we have him here and he’s got to play right now. His growth curve had to chance on day one. We started the summer with his conditioning. His conditioning was going to be a big part of him being able to stay in games, compete at the level that we wanted him to compete. He bought into it and lost 20 pounds. He’s a guy who’s very gifted – from an offensive standpoint and I like what he’s doing.”
The Miners shot over 42 percent and scored 40 points in the paint, along with 21 second-chance points.
ENMU was led by Maurice Coleman’s 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and Devin Pullum chipped in with 10 points.
Up Next, UTEP will take on rival New Mexico on Nov. 24 in The Pit. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post