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H-P Sports in Depth: Miners Set to Defend the Don, Extend Win Streak vs ODU Thursday

Two of the hottest teams in Conference USA – UTEP and Old Dominion – will lay it all on the line Thursday with the winner securing the no. 3 seed in next week’s Conference USA Tournament.  Tip-off is at 6 p.m.

The Miners (13-15, 11-5 C-USA) have won five straight games and 11 of 13.  Old Dominion (18-10, 11-5 C-USA) has won four in a row (all by at least 14 points) and seven of its last nine.

Discounted ticket prices are in effect for Thursday’s game and Saturday’s regular season finale against Charlotte (1 p.m.).  Tickets are only $8 and $10 in all sections except Gold.  These tickets are ordinarily as much as $26.  The ticket center number is (915) 747-5234.

“It ought to be a great atmosphere in here on Thursday,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “We’ve got a very physical team that is playing so well coming here.  They hammered us last year.  They just won by 20 at UAB [on Feb. 11].  It will be a supreme test for our guys.  I’m glad that we’re playing them at a time when we’ve got some confidence, because we are playing well right now.”

Old Dominion leads C-USA in scoring defense (60.6 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.397) and rebound margin (+6.0).  ODU is fourth in the country in scoring defense.  The Monarchs are led by a trio of sophomores – guard Ahmad Caver (13.6 ppg), forward Zoran Talley (11.6 ppg) and guard B.J. Stith (20.6 ppg).  Junior forward Brandan Stith is averaging 10.1 ppg.  Taylor and Brandan Stith rank 1-2 in Conference USA in offensive rebounds, averaging 3.6 and 2.6 respectively.

The game matches two teams that have always been stout defensively, but have only recently found themselves offensively.  UTEP has scored at least 77 points in four of its last five games; during that span the Miners are shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 49.4 percent from three-point range.  Old Dominion is averaging 77 ppg during its four-game win streak and shot 66 percent at UAB.

The game also pits two of the winningest coaches in the country against one another.  Floyd has 463 victories and ODU’s Jeff Jones has 445.

UTEP needs one win to wrap up a C-USA Tournament bye, and if it comes against Old Dominion the Miners would be on the opposite side of the bracket as league champ Middle Tennessee when the event tips off on March 8 in Birmingham.

“You have no way of controlling who you’re going to play, and we know that whoever we play is going to be a team that’s capable of beating us,” Floyd said.  “But you want to go in with as much confidence as you can and the important thing is that you’re getting a bye and not having to play the first day, and only needing to have three wins to get to the NCAA Tournament versus four.  We don’t have great depth.  And as a result, I think playing three games is much more advantageous for us.”

The Miners are 6-1 in conference home games this season, and 22-2 in their last 24.  They’ll try to make it 23-2 on Thursday, and coach Floyd campaigned for a large crowd in the DHC to aid the fight.

“These kids are playing their hearts out,” he said.  “No team in this country has been through more adversity and is playing better than we are at this point of the season.  I think our fans would be proud of these kids and the spirit that they have brought to themselves.  They are a fun group right now, and they have been fun in the locker room after these wins.”

STREAKING AGAIN

–    The Miners have a season-long five-game win streak.  It marks the sixth time that UTEP has enjoyed a win streak of five games or more in Conference USA play since joining the league in 2005.  UTEP’s longest C-USA win streak was 15 games from Jan. 6, 2010 to Jan. 5, 2011.
–    The Miners have won their last five C-USA road games.  UTEP’s longest C-USA road win streak is seven games twice, during the 2009-10 season and over the course of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns.  The Miners also had a five-game C-USA road win streak spanning over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

OPENING TIP

–    UTEP (13-15, 11-5 C-USA) and Old Dominion (18-10, 11-5 C-USA) will square off on Thursday.  The teams are tied for third place in the Conference USA standings, and the winner will clinch the no. 3 seed in next week’s Conference USA Championship.
–    Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. MT.  The game will be nationally televised on beIN Sports.
–    The Miners have won five straight C-USA games and 11 of their last 13.  Old Dominion comes to El Paso on a roll as well; the Monarchs have won four in a row (all by at least 14 points) and seven of their last nine.
–    UTEP has its longest win streak of the season and its longest since posting six consecutive victories (all in Conference USA play) from Feb. 4-20, 2016.
–    The Miners are 6-1 in C-USA home games with a one-point loss to LA Tech (62-61) on Feb. 9.  UTEP is 22-2 in its last 24 league home games dating back to the 2014-15 season.
–    Overall UTEP is 78-18 in C-USA home games, including 49-13 under head coach Tim Floyd.

ABOUT OLD DOMINION

–    Old Dominion is 4-3 in C-USA road games with wins over WKU (79-67), Rice (80-72), North Texas (73-67) and UAB (83-62), and losses to Marshall (90-86 in OT), Charlotte (74-72) and Middle Tennessee (64-51).  Overall ODU is 6-4 on the road in 2016-17.
–    The Monarchs continue to hang their hat on defense.  They allow 60.6 points per game (first in C-USA) and opponents are shooting 39.7 percent from the field (first in C-USA) and 34 percent from three-point range.
–    Old Dominion is averaging 64.9 ppg led by a trio of sophomores — guard Ahmad Caver (13.6 ppg), forward Zoran Talley (11.6 ppg) and guard B.J. Stith (10.6 ppg).  Junior forward Brandan Stith is averaging 10.1 ppg.  The Stiths are the sons of ODU assistant coach and former 10-year NBA veteran Bryant Stith.
–    Old Dominion is outrebounding opponents by an average of six per game (also tops in C-USA) led by senior forward Denzell Taylor (7.6 rpg) and Brandan Stith (7.0 rpg).  Taylor and Stith rank 1-2 in offensive rebounds per game in the league, averaging 3.6 and 2.6 respectively.
–    Old Dominion was fourth in the nation in scoring defense, 17th in offensive rebounds per game (13.3), 21st in field goal percentage defense, 27th in rebound margin, 34th in blocks (4.9 bpg) and 39th in turnovers per game (11.5) through the games of Feb. 26.  Taylor was 15th in offensive rebounds per game.
–    During its four-game win streak, Old Dominion is averaging 77 points per game.  The Monarchs shot 66 percent (33-for-50) from the floor and made 9-of-18 three pointers in an 83-62 victory at UAB on Feb. 11, which ended the Blazers’ 23-game C-USA home win streak.

SERIES HISTORY

–    UTEP is 2-1 all-time versus Old Dominion.
–    The Miners won the only previous matchup between the teams in the Haskins Center, 62-47, on Valentine’s Day in 2015.  UTEP held the Monarchs to 30.8 percent shooting, including 26.9 percent in the first half in building a 28-19 lead.

THE LAST MEETING

–    Old Dominion rocketed to an 18-point first-half lead, watched UTEP close the gap to four with 5:51remaining, then outscored the Miners 19-2 down the stretch in a 74-53 victory on Feb. 25, 2016 at the Constant Center.
–    Brandan Stith (16 points/15 rebounds) and Zoran Talley (16/10) both had a double-double for the Monarchs.  The Miners were crushed on the boards, 51-26.
–    Old Dominion outscored UTEP 47-30 in the paint on a night where it didn’t need a big game from Trey Freeman.  C-USA’s leading scorer was held under 20 points for just the second time in 15 league games, finishing with 14 on 6-for-15 shooting.
–    The Monarchs scored the game’s first 11 points and led 17-2 just six minutes in.  The Miners were never in it in the first half, falling behind 31-13 two minutes before halftime.
–    But UTEP had plenty of fight in the second half, and when Terry Winn scored at the 5:51 mark it was 55-51.  That completed a freshmen-driven 7-0 run with four points from Trey Touchet and three from Winn.
–    Old Dominion scored the next four points at the foul line.  Lee Moore made it 59-53 on a layup with 5:13to go. The Monarchs closed the game with a 15-0 run, doing most of their damage after Winn fouled out with 4:50 remaining.
–    Omega Harris was the only Miner in double figures with 11 points, although Dominic Artis, Moore and Winn all scored nine.  Touchet added eight off the bench.
–    The Miners shot 26.9 percent in the first half and 35.1 percent for the game.  They outscored Old Dominion 33-20 to start the second half before faltering late.

LAST GAME: UTEP 90, FIU 76

–    UTEP shot a season-high 67.3 percent from the field, including 72 percent in the second half, in continuing its hot streak with a 90-76 victory at FIU on Saturday.
–    The .673 field goal percentage ranks fifth in school history, and is the team’s best since shooting 69.8 percent versus Midwestern State on Dec. 1, 1986.  It’s the third-best field goal percentage by any Miner team in the modern era (since 1960).  UTEP shot 69.2 percent against Wabash on Dec. 11, 1973.
–    The Miners also made 7-of-11 three-point shots, including 6-of-7 in the second half, and 13-of-15 free throws.
–    FIU led just once, 6-4 three minutes into the game.  Following a closely contested first 13 minutes, the Miners closed the half with a 16-6 run and led 41-30.
–    UTEP extended the lead to 16 (48-32) early in the second half on a three-pointer by Dominic Artis, but FIU got back in it with a 9-0 spurt.  The lead was still seven (58-51) midway through the second half before the Miners used a 7-1 run to push their cushion back to 13.
–    FIU got within nine a couple of times, the last at 67-58 on a layup by Osasumwen Osaghae with 5:41 to go.  But the Miners scored the next seven points to put it away.
–    Matt Willms led the Miners with 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting.  He also had nine rebounds and three blocks.  Dominic Artis scored 21 points with seven assists.  Omega Harris had 19 points, and Paul Thomas added 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.  Trey Touchet scored in double figures for the third time in his college career (12 points) off the bench.  Touchet was 3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 from three-point territory and 4-for-4 at the line.
–    FIU, which started five seniors in its final home game of the season, was led by Donte McGill who scored 18 points.  The Panthers made 10-of-20 three pointers and scored 21 points off turnovers to stay competitive in stretches.
–    UTEP outscored FIU 48-30 in the paint and dominated the boards, 30-18.

MINERS IN THE NCAA STATS

–    Dominic Artis was 12th in the nation in minutes (36.7 mpg), 19th in assists (5.9 apg) and 30th in steals (2.0 spg) through Feb. 26.  Omega Harris was 19th in minutes (36.4 mpg).

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