Omega Harris scored 18 points, and hit the jumper that gave the Miners the lead for good to start overtime in an eventual 66-65 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
Following 12 consecutive losses, UTEP (4-13, 2-3 C-USA) has posted back-to-back wins for the first time this season. The Miners knocked off FIU in double overtime, 88-87, on Thursday.
UTEP has played consecutive overtime games for the first time since January of 1995, and posted consecutive overtime victories for the first time since topping Cincinnati (OT) and Kansas (2OT) in the 1966 NCAA Tournament.
“I thought we did a better job tonight of establishing a post-up game,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “It was probably our best game of the year in terms of lack of turnovers, only nine which is a huge positive for us. We still have a lot of room for growth. Omega scored 18, and you feel like he maybe could’ve had 24 tonight. Matt [Willms] did some nice things. He had 16, and you feel like he could’ve had 25 tonight with little finishes and free throws, things that we’re going to keep working at and try to get better. But our team needed this weekend. We did some nice things. We’re attempting to get better. The team that we beat tonight beat Ohio State on the road earlier in the year. They were not able to establish a post-up game. I thought our interior defense was better.”
The Miners held FAU (5-11, 1-4 C-USA) to 36.2 percent shooting, including 21.4 percent (6-for-28) from three-point range. Gerdarius Troutman pretty much single-handedly kept the Owls in the game, scoring 22 points and making all six of his team’s three pointers. He was 6-for-9 from beyond the arc, the rest of the squad was 0-for-19.
UTEP led throughout the first half and remained in front until 3:57 remaining in regulation, when Troutman hit two free throws for a 50-49 FAU lead. It was the Owls’ first advantage since 4-2 early on.
Willms broke a 52-52 tie on a free throw with 1:22 remaining, and Dominic Artis’ layup pushed the Miner lead to three (55-52) with 13 seconds left. Troutman hit his fifth three of the game with five seconds on the clock to sent it to overtime.
The Miners scored the first four points in overtime, built an eight-point lead (66-58) with 1:15 to play, then withstood a furious rally by the Owls.
After Troutman cut it to one (66-65) on his final triple of the evening with three seconds left, the ball was inbounded to Trey Touchet who threw it into the frontcourt, enabling time to run out.
UTEP placed four players in double figure scoring for the second consecutive game. Willms scored 16, Paul Thomas had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Artis added 11 points.
“Paul Thomas has really grown here in the last three or four games, but particularly this weekend at home,” Floyd said. “He is rebounding it, he is finishing plays, he made a nice finish coming through the lane there at the end. We’re making little plays that we weren’t making late, like Trey rebounds a free throw late and gets fouled for two. Paul gets a big defensive board late. We were able to buy some minutes out of various defenses that we threw out there. But overall we are pleased.”
After falling behind 4-2 early, the Miners scored eight straight points to take a 10-4 lead on a layup by Harris with 14:34remaining in the half. Florida Atlantic knotted the score at 11, but UTEP answered with a 9-0 run to power ahead 20-11 on a layup by Touchet with 8:43 to play.
Florida Atlantic ended the half with an 8-2 run to trim a 24-15 deficit down to 26-23. Troutman made two of his three first-half three-pointers over the final 3:29 of the period.
The Miners will conclude their three-game homestand against UTSA next Saturday (Jan. 21) at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got another game next Saturday against a team that beat us, and it will be a good measuring stick,” Floyd said. “I think UTSA is 4-1 in the league with a road win at Louisiana Tech. They also swept these two teams that beat us. I would hope that we’ll come out and play inspired again next Saturday.”
Gallery by Herald-Post Chief Photographer Andres Acosta