Omega Harris established career-highs for points (27), rebounds (10) and steals (five) as UTEP clinched a first-round bye in next week’s Conference USA Championships with a 74-67 win over Charlotte on Saturday in the Haskins Center.
The Miners (14-16, 12-6 C-USA) will have a share of third place in the final C-USA standings after Old Dominion lost at UTSA, 73-55, on Saturday. UTEP will be seeded fourth in the C-USA Championships and will face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between the no. 5 and 12 seeds at a time to be announced on Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.
The C-USA Championships bracket will be released on Saturday night.
“Really exciting time of the year and I am so pleased for our guys that they have given themselves an easier path at a time when everybody is hopeful in our league,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I do think Middle Tennessee is in [the NCAA Tournament] and hopefully there will be two bids, and somebody else will secure the championship like us. I’m as proud of this team as any I have coached, given that they didn’t give in and they have just continued to come to work every day and address who they’re not and try to get better. That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
The Miners will enter the C-USA Championships having won 12 of their last 15 games following a 2-13 start.
On Saturday, UTEP never trailed in winning a wire-to-wire game for the second time this season. But the Miners never led by more than 11 points, and it took a late 8-0 run to put it away after Charlotte pulled within three (63-60) with 3:31 remaining.
Harris scored 22 points in the second half, including eight in the last five minutes. He was 6-for-12 from the field and 9-for-11 from the line in 18 second-half minutes.
Paul Thomas had a double-double (15 points/11 rebounds), Matt Willms scored 11 points and Dominic Artis added 10 points, six rebounds and eight assists on his “Senior Day.”
Floyd said Artis was the catalyst in a 45-point second half after the Miners were only ahead by four (29-25) at halftime and shot 38.7 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
“I thought Dominic really kind of got us going in the second half, just by finding open guys, open looks,” he said. “I remember him cutting across the lane and kicking it out to Trey [Touchet] for a three, kicking it out to Jake [Flaggert] for a three. He was selfless on his senior night.”
Artis was also huge against Conference USA’s no. 2 scorer, Jon Davis, who finished with seven points on 2-for-12 shooting.
“He had two field goals and I think one of them was against Trey Touchet late on a drive by,” Floyd said. “He just really took it on himself, and I think that’s the area where D.A. has improved the most since he got here. You look at his numbers at Oregon and look at his numbers his senior year. He’s made great, great strides and I really commend him because when we were 2-13, it’s really easy to play for yourself. But it has been about winning. He has worked as hard as any young guy that we have ever had. He beats himself up on mistakes and turnovers. He beats himself up over losses, which a lot of kids don’t do anymore. I give him a lot of credit for helping us get this thing turned around.”
Charlotte (13-16, 7-11 C-USA) was led by Adrian White who scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half.
“That’s a team that can really score tonight, and they didn’t look like it as much,” Floyd said. “I thought we did some great things defensively. These guys understand their identity. We had no identity early, but I think we do now.”
Now it’s time for postseason play, and the Miners feel good about their chances at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
“We talked about it in the postgame and I asked them, ‘Is there anybody you feel that you can’t beat?’ And they all said ‘Absolutely not,’” Floyd said. “They are eager, they’re excited and they have confidence.”
Gallery courtesy Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald-Post