For a fourth straight game, UTEP will face a team either in first or second place in the Conference USA standings when LA Tech rolls in to the Don Haskins Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The Bulldogs (16-8, 8-3 C-USA) are in second place in the league, a game and a half in front of fifth-place UTEP (8-14, 6-4 C-USA), which is surging with wins in six of its last seven games.
“I think our guys feel good about themselves right now,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “But there’s nothing like Louisiana Tech showing up to humble you and put you back in your shoes. We know that we’ve got to get better again this week in order to compete on Thursday night. Our crowds have been absolutely awesome. We’re hoping that we have another great turnout here.”
Thursday is UTEP’s annual “Military Appreciation” game. Discounted tickets are available for all active military members (valid I.D. must be shown to pick up tickets), and the first 300 veterans in attendance will receive Military Appreciation t-shirts compliments of the UTEP Military Student Success Center and UTEP Army ROTC.
LA Tech beat UTEP by 20 (64-44) on Jan. 5 in Ruston in what was game 11 of a 12-game losing streak.
“We’d like to think that we’ve grown a little bit, but I think this is the real test,” Floyd said. “Who knows? We’ve just got to go play and play inspired. In the last ballgame Matt Willms went down with an injury [in a 31-27 game] in the second half. We’re hopeful that he’ll be healthy and we’ll be healthy mentally and ready to roll.”
LA Tech has a bunch of weapons, starting with senior forward Erik McCree who averages 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds. Junior guard Jacobi Boykins leads C-USA in steals (2.2 spg), freshman guard DaQuan Bracey is first in assist/turnover ratio (3.6), freshman guard Jalen Harris is first in free throw percentage (.923) and sophomore center Joniah White is first in blocked shots (2.4 bpg).
“They throw a lot of lefties at you that can really play,” Floyd said. “Erik McCree is a candidate for player of the year in our league. He is an extremely difficult matchup for our team. They put a lot of pressure on you in the open floor. I think one of the best things that they do is defend. Boykins is going to be an all-league player at the small forward spot. And their little point guard is as fast as Omega Harris. It’s a great team and we’re going to see their best shot when they come in here.
“We have to come out and play our best basketball. And our best basketball has been close wins against FIU, Florida Atlantic, UAB and Middle Tennessee. So we’re not a juggernaut. But we have to play together, play well, unselfishly and we’ve got to have big performances from the guys that we rely on.”
The Miners have put themselves in position to do something special a month after sitting 2-13.
“It really could [be special] and I really believe that,” Floyd said. “When you’ve got a player like Matt who can score it on the block, who’s long and athletic and different from a lot of bigs, and you’ve got two seasoned guards, you’ve got a chance if we can play mistake-free and continue to guard at a high level.”
Thursday’s game marks the 700th for the Miners in the Don Haskins Center. They are 537-162 all-time in the facility. UTEP has won 21 of its last 22 C-USA home games.
UTEP In Depth Stats
UTEP (8-14, 6-4 C-USA) looks to continue its recent surge when it hosts LA Tech (16-8, 8-3 C-USA) in game three of a four-game homestand on Thursday at 7 p.m.
– The Miners have won six of their last seven games to climb from a tie for 12th place in Conference USA to fifth. UTEP is a half-game behind third-place Old Dominion and UAB, and a game and a half behind second-place LA Tech.
– Thursday is UTEP’s annual “Military Appreciation” game. Discounted tickets are available for all active military members (valid I.D. must be shown to pick up tickets), and the first 300 veterans in attendance will receive Military Appreciation t-shirts compliments of the UTEP Military Student Success Center and UTEP Army ROTC.
– UTEP is playing a team either in first or second place in the C-USA standings for the fourth straight game. Marshall (Jan. 28) was tied for second place, UAB (Feb. 2) was in second and Middle Tennessee (Feb. 4) was in first.
– UTEP is 5-0 in C-USA home games this season, and 48-12 in C-USA home games under coach Tim Floyd. UTEP is one of three teams still unbeaten at home in league play this season, along with Middle Tennessee (5-0) and UAB (4-0).
– The Miners are 77-17 overall in C-USA home games. UTEP has won 21 of its last 22 league home games dating back to the 2014-15 season.
– The Miners have a 10-game C-USA home win streak, their longest since 11 consecutive from Jan. 10, 2015 – Jan. 21, 2016.
– UTEP has won eight straight Thursday C-USA home games. The last Thursday C-USA home loss was to LA Tech on Jan. 8, 2015.
ABOUT LA TECH
– LA Tech brings a 3-2 mark in C-USA road games to El Paso; the Bulldogs were 0-4 in their non-conference road games.
– LA Tech has been very competitive in its nine road games with all but one of the six losses decided by 10 points or less. The Bulldogs fell at Nebraska, 65-54, on Nov. 19.
– LA Tech is led by senior forward Erik McCree, who is averaging 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds. McCree is second in C-USA in rebounding, seventh in scoring, 13th in field goal percentage (.490) and 15th in three-point field goal percentage (.355).
– Lending support are junior guard Jacobi Boykins (15.1 ppg) and junior forward Omar Sherman (10.0 ppg).
– LA Tech has a pair of sensational freshmen in guards Jalen Harris (9.8 ppg) and DaQuan Bracey, who leads C-USA in assist/turnover ratio (3.6).
– Boykins is first in the league in steals (2.2 spg), Harris is first in free throw percentage (.923), and sophomore center Joniah White is first in blocked shots (2.4 bpg).
– The Bulldogs are first in C-USA in scoring margin (+11.2 ppg), assists (16.5 apg), blocked shots (5.7 bpg) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.323), second in field goal percentage defense (.413), and steals (6.9 spg), and third in scoring defense (65.7 ppg), turnover margin (+1.7) and assist/turnover ratio (1.3).
– LA Tech was ninth in the country in personal fouls per game (15.5), 14th in blocks and 29th in scoring margin through the games of Feb. 6. Bracey was sixth in assist/turnover ratio, Boykins was 19th in steals and 20th in three-point field goal percentage, White was 22nd in blocked shots and McCree was 25th in double-doubles (11).
– LA Tech leads the series 11-10, but the Miners are 8-2 against the Bulldogs in El Paso.
– Last season the Miners topped LA Tech in the Haskins Center, 91-80. The year before the Bulldogs posted a 58-45 triumph in UTEP’s C-USA home opener.
– UTEP is 2-4 versus LA Tech since the Bulldogs joined C-USA for the 2013-14 season (2-1 home, 0-3 away). All three games in the Haskins Center have been decided by 10 points or more.
THE LAST MEETING
– The Miners played a solid first half on Jan. 5 in Ruston, but LA Tech proved to be too much for the short-handed Miners over the last 20 minutes. The Bulldogs pulled away from a slim 28-25 lead at the break and cruised to a 64-44 victory.
– UTEP lost Matt Willms to an ankle injury in the first minute of the second half, and Paul Thomas to five fouls with 4:44 to play. LA Tech went on a 15-0 run, extending a 36-34 lead to 51-34 early in the period.
– The Miners shot 42.3 percent in the first half and held LA Tech to 32.1 percent. In the second half the Bulldogs shot 42.9 percent, made six threes and held UTEP to 25 percent (6-for-24) from the field.
– Erik McCree scored 19 points with 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs, and Jacobi Boykins added 14 points, seven rebounds and three steals. McCree scored seven points during the 15-0 run. He finished 6-for-10 from the field, 3-for-7 from three-point distance and 4-for-5 from the line.
– Omega Harris scored 23 points to lead the Miners. Only four UTEP players scored as Thomas tallied 12 points, Dominic Artis six and Willms three.
– The Miners committed 19 turnovers, leading to 20 points for the Bulldogs – including 13 in the second half.
COACH FLOYD’S LA TECH CONNECTION
– UTEP’s Tim Floyd graduated from LA Tech in 1977 with a degree in health and physical education. He earned one letter with the Bulldogs in 1976. – He is 11-10 when coaching against his alma mater (9-6 at New Orleans/2-4 at UTEP).
LAST GAME: UTEP 57, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 54
– Matt Willms scored nine of his 14 points in a game-ending 19-6 run as UTEP handed Middle Tennessee its first conference loss of the season, 57-54, on Feb. 4 at the Haskins Center.
– UTEP trailed 39-22 with 14:08 remaining. The Miners outscored Middle Tennessee 35-15 over the final 13:46, holding the Blue Raiders to six field goals during that span. Middle Tennessee scored one field goal in the final six minutes, when it was outscored 15-4.
– The Miners made 9-of-10 foul shots in the second half and 15-for-18 for the game, none bigger than Willms’ two with eight seconds left that pushed a 55-54 lead to 57-54.
– After falling behind by 17, the Miners scored 11 consecutive points to pull within six (39-33). Middle Tennessee extended the lead back to double digits and was ahead 48-38 when Brandon Walters scored with 7:26 remaining. Then the Miners mounted another run.
– Willms scored five points in a 9-0 run that turned a 50-42 deficit into a 51-50 lead. When Omega Harris hit a jumper with 2:27 to play, the Miners had their first lead since it was 1-0.
– JaCorey Williams, who was a one-man wrecking crew for Middle Tennessee with 24 points and 10 rebounds, put the Blue Raiders ahead 52-51 on a jumper with 2:09 to go. He gave them a 54-53 lead by splitting two free throws with 37 seconds left.
– The Miners did the rest of their damage at the foul line, as Harris made two free throws with 22 seconds left and, after Edward Simpson missed a three-pointer, Willms made two more with eight seconds remaining. Middle Tennessee’s Giddy Potts missed a three pointer at the buzzer.
– Dominic Artis collected 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Paul Thomas had 10 points and six rebounds.
– Williams made 10-of-15 shots and 4-of-5 free throws for Middle Tennessee. But the Blue Raiders’ other stars, Reggie Upshaw (zero points, one rebound in 23 minutes) and Potts (nine points, 3-for-11 from the field) were held in check.
– Middle Tennessee uncharacteristically turned it over 19 times, which was the equalizer on a night where it shot 48.9 percent to UTEP’s 41.3.
– The Miners trailed 27-16 following a miserable offensive first half where they shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24), including 0-for-7 from three-point range. In the second half UTEP shot 63.6 percent led by Willms, who was 5-for-7 from the field.