UTEP will open a crucial four-game homestand on Thursday night against defending Conference USA regular season champion UAB. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. Fans are asked to wear white on a night that the Miners will honor former great Jeep Jackson.
“We’ve got a lot of younger players who wouldn’t know about Jeep,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “But this has been point guard U for a while, going back to Bobby Joe Hill, Tim Hardaway, Nate Archibald and Julyan Stone. And you’ve got to put Jeep in the conversation with all of them. In fact, of all the point guards that I’ve coached at the college level, I feel like he affected winning more than any of them. He was a really charismatic player.”
Jackson played at UTEP from 1983-87 prior to his untimely passing at the age of 23. He was a part of four NCAA Tournament teams, four conference title squads and 101 victories.
“He was a part of a great turnaround in the ‘80s,” Floyd said. “The ‘70s had become somewhat dormant. A rebuild started with high school kids. We got a couple of really nice young freshmen and all of a sudden Jeep showed up with some other great freshmen and they just took off. He was the personality on those teams. He was the guy with the big smile. He was the guy diving on the floor for loose balls. He was the guy initiating the defense at the 10-second line. He was the guy blowing by the other guard and dishing it off. A lot of people have forgotten that he beat out Tim Hardaway. Tim Hardaway was here as a freshman and Jeep was a sophomore. Tim played about 5-10 minutes a ballgame his freshman year and coach [Don] Haskins ultimately started them both Jeep’s junior year and Tim’s sophomore year.”
The first 1,000 fans will receive a Jeep Jackson t-shirt, and the first 5,000 will receive a commemorative trading card.
As for the Miners, they are playing their best basketball of the season after starting league play 0-3. UTEP is 4-1 since and has squared its conference mark at 4-4. The reasons for the turnaround are multiple.
“We were the worst defensive club that I’ve ever coached through the end of December, but we were also bad offensively,” Floyd said. “We struggled, we had players that were hurt, players like Matt Willms who weren’t practicing. We had a young player that was trying to find himself in Paul Thomas. We had guards who were trying to do more than what they should be able to do and were capable of doing. And Matt has gotten healthy, Paul has gotten better and our guards have taken a step back and deferred a little bit and as a result they’re playing better. And our defense, which was the worst in Conference USA prior to league play, is now best in Conference USA in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. Now, we’re not out of the woods. We still have some warts that we’ve got to work through. But I’m really proud of these guys.”
UAB lost starting point guard Nick Norton to a knee injury very early in the season. They still have a potent frontcourt tandem in William Lee and Chris Cokley, who combine to average 24.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. The backcourt is anchored by seniors Dirk Williams (10.2 ppg) and Hakeem Baxter (8.0 ppg). UAB is two games behind front-running Middle Tennessee in the C-USA standings in its first year under the direction of coach Robert Ehsan.
“They are big, they are powerful, they are strong, they are athletic,” Floyd said. “They’re probably the most talented frontline in our league, without me looking at Middle Tennessee much. One 6-10 guy [Lee] shoots 39 percent from the three-point line. They use their length blocking shots. We were dominant in the paint on the road [last week]. I doubt that’s going to happen here against a vaunted front line. We’re going to have some issues that we’re going to have to play through.”
UTEP and UAB have staged some classic battles in recent years. The last three games between the teams in the Haskins Center have been settled by two points (2010), one point (2012) and two points (2015).
– UTEP (6-14, 4-4 C-USA) begins a four-game homestand — tying its longest of the season — when it hosts defending Conference USA regular season champion UAB (14-8, 7-2 C-USA) on Thursday at 8 p.m.
– The game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network.
– Former Miner great Jeep Jackson will be honored 30 years after his untimely passing at the age of 23.
– The Miners have rallied from an 0-3 start to win four of their last five C-USA games and get to .500 in league play. UTEP enters Thursday tied for seventh place in the league standings, two back in the loss column to the second-place Blazers.
– UTEP is 3-0 in C-USA home games this season, and 46-12 in C-USA home games under coach Tim Floyd. UTEP is one of four teams still unbeaten at home in league play this season, along with Middle Tennessee (5-0), UAB (4-0) and UTSA (3-0).
– UTEP’s next three home games are against teams (UAB, Middle Tennessee, LA Tech) that are a combined 22-5 in C-USA play entering Thursday.
– The Miners are 75-17 overall in C-USA home games. UTEP has won 19 of its last 20 league home games dating back to the 2014-15 season.
– Jeep Jackson, one of the most beloved players in UTEP basketball history and the heart and soul of the great Miner teams of the ‘80s, will be honored at Thursday’s game.
– Jackson passed away on May 2, 1987, less than two months after playing his final game for UTEP. Autopsy reports showed that the cause of death was birth defects in his heart.
– Jackson played in 124 games for the Miners, collecting 875 points. He still ranks fourth in school history in steals (165) and seventh in assists (313).
– Jackson led UTEP to 101 victories, four NCAA Tournament bids and four Western Athletic Conference regular season titles. He played a key role in the Miners’ drive to seven straight NCAA Tournaments (1984-90).
– The Blazers are in the thick of the C-USA race — two games behind front-running Middle Tennessee — despite losing point guard Nick Norton to a season-ending knee injury in mid-November. UAB will once again host the Conference USA Tournament March 8-11.
– UAB is in its first year under the direction of coach Robert Ehsan, who took over when Jerod Haase departed to become the head coach at Stanford. The 34-year old Ehsan previously was an assistant coach at Maryland, Virginia Tech and UAB.
– The Blazers are led by the potent frontcourt tandem of juniors William Lee and Chris Cokley. They combine to average 24.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.
– Anchoring the backcourt are seniors Dirk Williams (10.2 ppg) and Hakeem Baxter (8.0 ppg).
– Sophomore Deion Lavender, a transfer from Southern Illinois, has stepped in for Norton and dished out a team-leading 89 assists.
– With Baxter serving a one-game suspension, freshman guard Nate Darling stepped up and scored 20 points in the Blazers’ last game against Southern Miss on Jan. 28. He was 7-for-10 from the field and 6-for-9 from three-point range.
– UAB is leading C-USA in free throw percentage (.772), and also features the league leader in blocks (Lee, 2.5 bpg).
– The Blazers were 12th in the nation in free throw percentage, and Lee was 17th in blocks through the games of Jan. 30. Cokley was 22nd in field goal percentage (.605).
– UAB is 4-4 on the road this season, 3-2 in the league with wins over North Texas (54-52), Rice (88-81 OT) and Florida Atlantic (80-78) and losses to Middle Tennessee (60-49) and FIU (94-85).
– The Miners are 8-9 all-time against UAB.
– Of the 16 games the teams have played as C-USA members, 13 have been decided by nine points or less.
– Three of the last eight meetings have gone to overtime and five of the last seven games have been determined by three points or fewer.
– UTEP holds a 6-2 edge over the Blazers in games played in El Paso. The last three games between the teams at the Haskins Center have been settled by two points (2010), one point (2012) and two points (2015).
THE LAST MEETING
– Earvin Morris led a furious second-half rally with 23 points, but UTEP came up just short at defending C-USA champion UAB, 87-80, on Jan. 9, 2016 at Bartow Arena.
– Morris made 8-of-14 shots and five three pointers. He scored 18 points in the second half when UTEP cut a 19-point deficit down to five in the last two minutes.
– The Miners weren’t playing with a full deck. Terry Winn was limited to 10 minutes, all in the first half, after rolling his ankle in the first half at Middle Tennessee two days earlier. He finished with three points and no rebounds.
– Minus Winn, the Miners’ rebounding effort wasn’t a disaster as they were out-boarded 48-40, although UAB converted 16 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points.
– UTEP held the Blazers to 38.2 percent shooting (29.4 percent in the first half) after they made at least 50 percent of their shots in seven of the previous eight games.
– UTEP shot 46.8 percent. The Miners scored 49 points in the second half, when they made 53.1 percent of their attempts.
– The first 15 minutes were hotly contested with neither team leading by more than four points. The Blazers gained some separation by scoring the last six points of the half to go into the locker room up 40-31. In the last 3:30 of the period, the Blazers outscored the Miners 8-2 and outrebounded them 7-2.
– UAB opened the second half with a 15-5 run to take its largest lead of the game, 55-36 with 14:37 remaining. From the 2:03mark of the first half to the 14:37 mark of the second half, the Blazers outscored the Miners 21-5 with William Lee (seven points) and Chris Cokley (five) combining for 12 points in the run.
– The Miners were down 67-54 with nine and a half minutes left but were not out. Morris made back-to-back three pointers to cut it to seven (67-60) with 8:20 to go. UTEP pulled within five (77-72) on a driving layup by Omega Harris with 1:57 remaining. But that was as close as the Miners could get.
– Lee led UAB with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Cokley also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards, with Norton (13 points) and Dirk Williams (11) joining him in double figures. Norton chipped in with seven assists and three steals.
– Hooper Vint had 14 points, seven rebounds and a career-high six blocks for the Miners. Dominic Artis added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Jake Flaggert and Harris contributed 10 points apiece, with Flaggert scoring in double figures for the first time as a Miner.
LAST GAME: UTEP 91, MARSHALL 68
– Matt Willms scored 25 points and Dominic Artis added 24 points and 11 rebounds, as UTEP handed Marshall its first loss at home this season, 91-68, on Jan. 28 in Huntington, W. Va.
– Marshall, which entered the game tied for second place in C-USA, fell to 11-1 at home with only its third loss in the last 24 games in Huntington.
– The Herd was held 20 points below its season average. Marshall, averaging a C-USA best 10.6 three-pointers per game, shot 3-for-25 from beyond the arc. The three triples were a season low for the Herd.
– The Miners trailed only once at 2-0 and, after seeing a 15-point lead dwindle to three early in the second half, went on a 12-0 run and were in command the rest of the way.
– Willms made 11-of-15 shots while adding seven rebounds for the Miners, who absolutely throttled Marshall on the glass (45-29).
– Artis was 11-for-16 from the floor while collecting 11 rebounds. Omega Harris scored 13 points and Paul Thomas 11 for UTEP, which held on despite being forced to mix and match lineups in the second half with Thomas, Willms and Kelvin Jones all in foul trouble.
– Jones was key off the bench with five points, five rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes, and Deon Barrett came alive at the right time, scoring seven points on perfect shooting (2-for-2 FGs, 1-for-1 3FGs, 2-for-2 FTs) in 21 minutes.
– The Miners got off to a great start, jumping out to leads of 8-2, 16-6 and 22-8. Marshall trimmed it down to 10 (45-35) at halftime.
– The Herd outscored UTEP 14-7 over the first five and a half minutes of the second half and cut the deficit to three (52-49) on a layup by Terrence Thompson, who scored 25 points with 10 rebounds.
– UTEP’s ensuing 12-0 run featured six points from Artis, who scored 14 in the second half.
– After Marshall pulled within nine (64-55) with 8:35 to go, the Miners scored five in a row to put it away.
– UTEP’s 91 points were a season high. The Miners shot 60.6 percent in the first half, 57.8 percent for the game, and scored 60 points in the paint.
– Marshall’s starting guard tandem of Stevie Browning, Jon Elmore and Austin Loop, averaging 48 points between them, were held to 21 combined on 4-for-24 shooting from the field and 2-for-17 from three.