Bryson Williams scored a career-high 33 points, including the first nine points of the game, and UTEP pulled away in the second half to a 91-71 victory over East Central to remain among the ranks of the unbeaten at 5-0.
“The game tonight was an opportunity for us to try to get better against an older team, a team that we knew coming in had a really good record (4-1) and those guys can shoot the basketball,” UTEP coach Rodney Terry said. “But more importantly, it was about us trying to get better in areas we’re still trying to improve.”
Williams made 15-of-17 shots and 3-of-4 free throws in surpassing his previous personal best of 30 points, scored against Cal State Monterey Bay when he was a sophomore (2017-18 season) at Fresno State. He added 11 rebounds for his first double-double as a UTEP Miner and blocked two shots.
The 33 points are the most by a UTEP player since Dominic Artis also tallied 33 points versus Marshall in the Haskins Center on Feb. 4, 2016.
“My teammates really looked for me in this game and we just took care of business,” Williams said. “I’m glad we were able to finish out the win.”
“Bryson is a really good player,” Terry said. “He played the last game [against New Mexico] under the weather and really battled through that game. He has had a couple of really good practices and I thought that carried over to tonight’s game. He’s one of those guys that’s going to be on everybody’s scouting report in terms of a target. But he’s a very unselfish player. He’ll move the basketball when not given an opportunity to score. He just wants to win. He’s one of those kids that’s going to work extremely hard and try to do all the things that you ask him to do.”
The first half, and the early portion of the second half, was filled with ebbs and flows. The Miners scored the game’s first nine points, and the lead reached double digits (15-5) on a three-pointer by Anthony Tarke with 12:49 on the clock.
Williams and Tarke combined to score 18 of UTEP’s first 21 points, with Williams single-handedly outscoring the Tigers 9-0 in the opening two and a half minutes.
East Central used an 11-2 run to get within a point (19-18) on a tip-in by Josh Apple with 7:52 remaining in the half. The Miners were up two (23-21) before embarking on a 13-0 spurt to take their biggest lead of the half, 36-21, on a jumper by Tydus Verhoeven with 2:55 to go.
But the Tigers ended the half with nine consecutive points to draw within six (36-30) at the break.
The Miners scored the first eight points of the second half to build the lead to 14 points (44-30) but couldn’t shake the Tigers, who drew within five (47-42) on two free throws by Camron Talley with 14:32 to play.
After that, however, it was all Miners, as they scored 15 of the next 17 points to blow out to an 18-point advantage (62-44), and they weren’t seriously threatened the rest of the night.
“I thought in the first half, we didn’t come out with the right approach and the right kind of attitude that we needed for this ballgame as far as trying to improve and get better,” Terry said. “I thought we did a much better job in the second half in terms of the mindset we needed to come out with, how hard we needed to compete, and what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to close out November the right way in terms of really trying to have an identity that we know every day we can hang our hat on, that we’re going to guard hard and play as hard as we can on that end of the floor.”
Nigel Hawkins chipped in with 12 points and Daryl Edwards added 11 for the Miners. Hawkins had a stellar stat line with eight assists, no turnovers and six steals in 26 minutes off the bench. The six steals are tied for the third-top total in school history.
“He came in and gave us great energy. I thought he came in and played with the kind of urgency that we’re talking about,” Terry said. “We still have a relatively young team in terms of the maturity piece. We harped on it and we talked about it the last couple of days, that every night and every day you practice, you’ve got to play with urgency. I thought he came out and played with tremendous urgency and gave our team a really good lift with his energy.”
Heralded TCU transfer Kaden Archie made his UTEP debut, playing 24 minutes and contributing seven points, an assist and a steal.
Talley, the no. 2 scorer in Division II at 25.4 points per game coming in, scored 15 points for East Central. Matt Garriga led the Tigers with 16 points. The game was marked as an exhibition for East Central.
The Miners had commanding advantages in points in the paint (56-28) and points off turnovers (37-11) while receiving 43 points from their reserves.
UTEP will play at NM State on Tuesday (Dec. 3) as the Battle of I-10 continues. The Miners, who downed the Aggies in El Paso on Nov. 12 (65-50), are seeking their first win in Las Cruces and first sweep of NMSU since the 2010-11 season.
The Miners are off to their best start in four years, but Terry said there’s still plenty of work ahead.
“We have a very high standard and very high expectations for our team,” Terry said. “Especially in the first part of the year, it’s about us improving every single day, whether it’s with transition defense, shooting defense, or taking care of the basketball. We want to continue to try to get better. We’re so far away from being as good as I think we can be, and where we want to go, and what we want to do this season. We’ve got to continue to work every day and hold each other accountable to want to be better and want to play hard and do the things that we practice.”
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – & Ruben R. Ramirez – El Paso Herald Post