UTEP blew the game open with a 13-0 run midway through the first half, and frustrated UTSA defensively throughout in a 59-39 dismantling of the Roadrunners on Saturday in the Haskins Center.
The Miners (5-13, 3-3 C-USA) posted their third straight victory in getting to .500 in Conference USA play for the first time this season. UTSA (9-10, 4-2 C-USA) shot less than 25 percent in both halves, and the 39 points were the second-fewest allowed by UTEP to a Conference USA opponent. UAB scored 37 points on Feb. 8, 2006 during the Miners’ first year in the league.
The .241 field goal percentage by UTSA was the lowest by a UTEP opponent since UAB shot 23.7 percent on Feb. 8, 2006.
Omega Harris scored 16 points, Paul Thomas recorded the second double-double of his UTEP career with 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, and Jake Flaggert scored 11 points.
“We’re getting better as a team and we have some individuals who are playing better, most notably Paul Thomas,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “He is learning that he can score if he rebounds. He has developed a nice little mid-range shot to go with a couple of post-ups that he had.”
The 13-0 run pushed the UTEP lead from 12-10 to 25-10. Five players scored during the run, including reserves Chris Barnes and Trey Touchet.
“Our guards gave us a chance to extend the lead in the first half because they didn’t turn it over, they played within themselves and they took quality shots,” Floyd said.
UTSA made 7-of-29 shots (24.1 percent) in both halves. The Roadrunners finished 2-for-22 from three-point range. The Miners saw three players score off the bench (Barnes, Touchet, Kelvin Jones) for the first time in 10 games.
“We mentioned a few weeks ago that if we were going to get better it would have to be on the defensive end. We are getting better there,” Floyd said. “Now these guards have to make solid, good plays. I thought Omega did in the first half. I thought D.A. [Dominic Artis] did in the first half. We got quality play from our bench. The bench guys are growing a little bit, which is to be expected this time of the year.”
Artis scored nine points, giving him exactly 1,000 for his career.
Lucas O’Brien’s three-point play with 14:57 remaining in the half pulled UTSA within one (10-9). The Roadrunners didn’t score their next field goal until 2:32 left in the period, when J.R. Harris’ three-pointer cut an 18-point Miner lead (32-14) down to 15. In-between, UTEP outscored UTSA 22-5.
The Miners maintained leads of at least 17 points throughout the second half despite shooting 27.3 percent and scoring 20 points.
“The second half was really frustrating offensively for us tonight,” Floyd said. “I credit their guys. I just think their coach is doing a heck of a job. He got that group 4-1 [in the league] and they go over and win at Louisiana Tech and they beat us. Give him credit.”
The Miners continued to get a glimpse at the bright futures of Thomas and Jones, who pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds in 19 minutes.
“With another summer of lifting and getting stronger and continuing to work on his skill development which all of our guys do, I think Paul’s got a real chance one day to be a very, very fine player,” Floyd said. “He is making nice plays off the dribble, he is passing the ball for the most part off the dribble. He had a turnover tonight that we didn’t necessarily like off the dribble but he is playing hard. And he is growing, which we had hoped for.
“Kelvin had nine boards in 19 minutes and a couple of nice blocks. You can tell he is a developing big guy. I’ve had those four kids that never played high school basketball. He is kind of in that category of still trying to grow and learn when to and when not to, learning those instincts. But he is going to be a fine player at some point before he leaves here.”
The Miners outrebounded UTSA, one of C-USA’s top teams on the boards, 42-37.
UTEP will start a demanding five-game stretch by playing at WKU Thursday (6 p.m. MT) and Marshall Saturday (5 p.m. MT). The WKU game will be televised on beIN Sports.
Gallery by Herald-Post Chief Photographer Andres Acosta