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H-P Sports in Depth: Miners Return Home to Battle FIU Thursday

It has been three weeks since the UTEP men’s basketball team played a game in the Don Haskins Center, as it has endured a string of four consecutive games outside of El Paso.

That streak will come to an end on Thursday when UTEP hosts FIU at 7 p.m.  And the Miners hope another streak will be shown the door as well, as they shoot for their first victory since Nov. 18.

The Miners are 1-6 at home this season, but FIU is 0-6 on the road with losses to Stetson (82-67), South Alabama (69-64 in overtime), Elon (84-81 in overtime), South Carolina (70-54), Florida Gulf Coast (82-63) and Florida Atlantic (73-64).

On paper, FIU looks better than 4-12.  The Panthers have three starters and eight letterwinners back from last year.  The returning starters are senior guard Anthony Boswell, senior guard Donte McGill and sophomore guard Kimar Williams.

McGill is averaging a team-leading 18.8 ppg, fourth in C-USA.  He leads the league and rates 10th nationally in free throw percentage (.924).  Graduate transfer Michael Kessens, who played in 65 games for Alabama from 2014-16, is averaging 14.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg (first C-USA/25th NCAA).  The 6-9, 228-pound Kessens is shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

FIU has been one of the top teams in C-USA in rebound margin (+5.4 rpg, third) and free throw percentage (.731, fourth).

“They’ve got several guys back that we’re familiar with from a year ago,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “[Kessens] is a very good player.  They rely on their guards that are both fine, fine players, probably the equal of what we have in the backcourt.  They just have more bodies than we have right now.  A lot of guys have come off the bench and played well for them.  We have had a struggle in that area.  They are going to present other issues for us.

The Miner bench has been outscored 322-201 this season, but the differential is more pronounced (65-11) in Conference USA play.

“The bench has really had their own issues this year,” Floyd said.  “When we go to the bench, games have changed.  We haven’t been able to find that complimentary scoring off the bench, and that has been one of our issues.”

With a dearth of scoring, Floyd preached a similar refrain of the Miners needing to play a close to perfect game.

“We’re going to have to do a lot of things right,” he said.  “Every possession is huge for our team.  We’re going to have to keep guys in the game.  Guys can’t get in foul trouble.  We’re going to have to make free throws.  We’re going to have to not turn it over.  Just little things that are so huge for our team because we don’t have a number of playmakers, guys that can go back and get you second chance points off the board, guys that can go create their own shot.  That’s where we’re limited right now.”

The Miners would love to see a third (and even a fourth) scorer emerge against FIU.  UTEP has placed two players in double figure scoring in four of the last five games.  During that stretch Dominic Artis (81) and Omega Harris (92) have accounted for 59.5 percent (173-of-291) of the team’s points.

“That’s a real issue for our team,” Floyd said.  “We have tried to play through Matt [Willms].  Matt was 1-for-4 [in the Southern Miss game] and the foot injury really killed him, although he did some nice things for us.  Paul Thomas and Matt really have to be the next guys.  We knew this was going to be an issue when Josh McSwiggan and Lee Moore left last year.  We just don’t have those two bodies, that extra 20 points a game.  And that’s where we are.”

The Miners have been exceptional historically (72-17) in C-USA home games.  They have won 16 of their last 17 league home games, although the only loss came to FIU, 79-69, last season.  UTEP has won 20 of its last 23 C-USA home games in the month of January.

They’ll have the opportunity to right the ship with FIU, Florida Atlantic (Saturday) and UTSA (Jan. 21) all coming in over the next 10 days.

“I can’t speak for the team,” Floyd said.  “I can tell you it would be damned good for me [to get a win], and I assume it would be good for them as well.”

***In Depth***

After playing its first three C-USA games on the road, UTEP (2-13, 0-3 C-USA) will be home for three straight and seven of nine starting on Thursday when it hosts FIU (4-12, 0-3 C-USA).  Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

  • UTEP will try to snap a six-game home losing streak against the Panthers, who are winless in six road games this season.
  • The Miners will be playing three consecutive C-USA home games for the fifth time since joining the league in 2005.  This also occurred once each during the 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.  UTEP was 3-0 twice and 2-1 twice in the previous three-game C-USA homestands.
  • The matchup with FIU on Thursday is UTEP’s first in the Don Haskins Center since Dec. 22, three weeks to the day; and the Miners are 72-17 in C-USA home games.
  • UTEP has won 16 of its last 17 league home games dating back to the 2014-15 season; the only loss was to FIU, 79-69, on Jan. 23, 2016.   The Miners have been particularly good in C-USA home games in the month of January, posting a 31-6 record with wins in 20 of their last 23 outings.
  • UTEP is 43-12 in C-USA home games under coach Tim Floyd.

THE LAST MEETING

–    Lee Moore scored a career-high 30 points, 22 in the second half, as UTEP advanced to the C-USA Championship quarterfinals with an 85-77 victory over FIU on March 9, 2016 at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
–    UTEP led by 15 points in the first half, only to see the Panthers rally to take a three-point lead in the final five minutes before closing the game with an 18-7 run.
–    Donte McGill scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half for FIU.  Daviyon Draper added 17 points and Adrian Diaz had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
–    The Miners had two runs in the first half.  The first was 10-2 and extended a 13-12 lead to 23-14.  The second was 10-4 and pushed a 28-19 advantage to 38-23. UTEP led 40-29 at the half.
–    The Miners had their difficulties at the free throw line to start the second half and FIU was able to hang around as a result.  The Panthers cut the lead to single digits early in the frame and, off an 18-8 run, pulled within one (56-55) with 9:49 to go.
–    When Diaz made two free throws with 5:01 to play, FIU had its first lead (67-65) since 3-2.
–    Draper’s three at the 4:19 mark allowed the Panthers to match their largest lead of three points (70-67).  Dominic Artis answered with a three for the Miners to tie it.  That started a run of 10 straight points that put UTEP up 77-70 and back in charge.
–    Moore scored 10 points in the final 3:22.  He finished 8-for-9 from the field and 12-for-12 from the line with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
–    Earvin Morris scored 25 points, 15 in the first half, for the Miners.  Artis added 11 points, five rebounds and five assists with no turnovers for a UTEP team that only had seven giveaways.
–    The Miners shot 51 percent and the low turnover number was crucial on a night where they were outrebounded 43-24.

LAST GAME: SOUTHERN MISS 73, UTEP 65

–    UTEP’s Omega Harris and Dominic Artis combined for 49 points, but Southern Miss converted 16 Miner turnovers into 24 points and raced to a 73-65 victory on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
–    The Miners couldn’t get to the line in the first half.   In the second half they went to the line 19 times, making 12, and held Southern Miss to 39.3 percent shooting.   That was good enough to play the Golden Eagles to a 34-34 draw, but not enough to carve into a 39-31 halftime deficit.
–    UTEP got down by 11 early in the second half.  The Miners scored the next seven points to make it 48-44, but couldn’t get closer.
–    Another key stretch came midway through the second half when, after Harris’ free throw made it a six-point game (54-48), Southern Miss’ Robert Thomas nailed a three-pointer.
–    Finally, with UTEP trailing by six (69-63) and under two minutes left, Artis and Harris missed a series of shots that could’ve made things interesting had they gone down.
–    The duo shot a combined 19-for-41 from the field, 4-for-19 from three-point range and 7-for-12 from the line as Harris scored a career-high 26 points, and Artis added 23 points, 13 rebounds and four steals.
–    The Miners went on a 9-2 run early in the first half to take a 13-10 lead.  The game was closely contested for most of the period until the Golden Eagles outscored the Miners 9-2 over the final 3:01 to go into the locker room up eight.  Artis ended a string of nine consecutive points for the Golden Eagles by banking in a jumper right before the buzzer.
–    Quinton Campbell scored 24 points with 10 rebounds for Southern Miss.  Cortez Edwards scored 17 points.  The Golden Eagles shot 46.3 percent and scored 30 points in the paint.

MINERS IN THE NCAA STATS

–    Dominic Artis was ninth in the nation in assists (6.5 apg), 16th in minutes (36.2 mpg) and 34th in steals (2.1 spg) through Jan. 10.  Omega Harris was 24th in minutes (35.8 mpg).

LOOKING AHEAD

–    The Miners will host Florida Atlantic on Saturday at 7 p.m.  UTEP leads the series 3-1, including a clean sweep during the 2015-16 season.  The Miners beat the Owls in El Paso (71-56) and Boca Raton (89-82).

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