Four Miners hit double figures as freshman Nigel Hawkins led the way with 20 points. Senior Paul Thomas, freshman Jordan Lathon and sophomore Evan Gilyard each tallied 16 points and UTEP shot over 50 percent in the second half to down FIU, 85-75, in front of 5,094 rowdy fans in the Haskins Center Saturday night.
“Give the guys a lot of credit,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “We knew the other night that was one of maybe three games we had to fight to get the win. We were a little jumpy to start the game and we knew they would start the game with some pressure, so once we settled into the game we were able to attack up the floor. Our guys did a much better job of cleaning that up as the game went on.”
After the Panthers (14-11, 5-7 Conference USA) took a 12-point lead in the first half, the Miners (8-15, 3-9 C-USA) used a 12-0 run to tie the game and ended the first half on a 20-4 run to go up four points (37-33) at the half. The Miners took their first lead with 46 seconds left in the half and never looked back.
The Panthers went with a full-court press early, but the Miners were able to break their press and score their most points at home in a league contest.
Hawkins shot 7-for-11 from the field, including a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe. Gilyard went 6-of-8 from the free-throw line, while Lathon connected on a career-high four three pointers on four attempts. Thomas shot 6-for-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from downtown.
The strong end to the first period carried over into the second. The Miners largest lead was 16 points (60-44) at the 12:31 mark after a Hawkins’s jumper. FIU cut the lead to six points on multiple occasions, but the Miners kept making buckets.
Thomas scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half on 5-of-6 shooting, while Hawkins added 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field during the second stanza.
“It stemmed from our defensive intensity, how we ended the first half on a good run. I think we picked up from that intensity and energy from the first half and carried over into the second,” Thomas said. “It’s something we have struggled with all season but we fought through it. I’m proud of our guys.”
At the one point going back to the end of the first half, UTEP had hit seven of its last eight three-point attempts, while starting the second half by making 5-of-5 from beyond the arc. Thomas connected on two of those treys. After a pair of Antonio Daye Jr. free throws to get FIU within two points (37-35) at the 19:17 mark, Thomas answered with back-to-back threes as his squad took an eight-point lead (43-35) at the 18:21 mark.
Lathon gave UTEP its biggest lead at time when he converted a layup at the 17:35 mark, making the score 45-35.
Efe Odigie tallied 15 boards as UTEP outrebounded FIU, 46-28. The Miners also connected on 75.0 percent (21-28) of their free throws and recorded 13 offensive rebounds that helped lead to 11-second chance points.
Kobe Magee made his first start since Nov. 9 at NM State. Magee chipped in with four points, three rebounds in 25 minutes of action and tied Lathon for the team lead with three assists. Kaosi Ezeagu also made his second start of his career and first since Nov. 14 at Arizona. Ezeagu played 12 minutes and scored four points with seven rebounds.
Thomas also registered nine rebounds before fouling out, while Lathon also fouled out, but was walking up and down the bench, cheering on his teammates and encouraging the fans to do the same.
FIU started the first half, connecting on 4-of-8 from three-point range and took a 29-17 lead on a Michael Douglas trey at the 5:25 mark. Devon Andrews led the Panthers with nine points in the first period.
The fighting Miners responded with a 12-0 run to tie the game 29-29 as Lathon and Hawkins combined for all the points. Hawkins started the run with a dunk, while Lathon connected on two of his three first half three pointers to get Miner nation on their feet in the Haskins Center.
After FIU took a 33-31 lead on an Andrews’s jumper, Evan Gilyard tied the game and then Hawkins gave his squad its first lead (35-33) of the game after he converted a layup on a fast break. Gilyard followed with a reverse, left-handed layup to put UTEP up 37-33.
Lathon led the half with 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting (3-3 on threes) and Hawkins tallied 10 points that included a 4-for-4 effort from the charity stripe.
Overall for FIU, Andrews paced his squad with 26 points, while Daye Jr. scored 14. Brian Beard Jr., the Panthers’ leading scorer, was held to just four points on 1-of-10 shooting and fouled out of the contest.
Up next,UTEP will play at LA Tech on Feb. 14 (5:30 p.m. MT) and at Southern Miss on Saturday night (1 p.m. MT).
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald-Post