Dominic Artis scored six of his 20 points during a 16-0 run early in the second half as UTEP thumped Southern Miss, 80-50, on Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center for its seventh win in nine games.
The Miners made 12 three-pointers, their second-most in a game this season, led by Artis who was 6-for-9 from long range. UTEP finished 12-for-23 from beyond the arc and shot 52.9 percent from the field on a night where Southern Miss’ game plan was to take the Miners’ inside game away.
“It was nice to get a win by that margin, and I’m really pleased with our guys in a lot of areas,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We made some shots, which certainly helps. I thought Dominic had a terrific shooting game. He felt confident there, as well as [Trey] Touchet and Jake Flaggert. I thought our two big guys played with a lot of poise. Kelvin [Jones] looked really energetic and enthusiastic and active and played well and Matt [Willms] was double-teamed, triple-teamed all night long and had a lot of poise and threw the ball out of there.”
The Miners (9-15, 7-5 C-USA) led 41-31 at the half despite scoring just four points in the paint. They were 7-for-14 from beyond the arc over the opening 20 minutes.
Southern Miss (7-18, 4-9 C-USA) cut it to nine (45-36) on a layup by Raheem Watts with 16:48 to play before UTEP went on the 16-0 run to take command.
In their last three home games versus the Golden Eagles, the Miners have had runs of 17-0 (2015), 13-0 (2016) and 16-0. After watching LA Tech take control early in the second half Thursday with a 21-3 run in an eventual 62-61 victory, the Miners were the aggressors this time around.
“The big difference was how we started the second half offensively and defensively,” Floyd said. “We didn’t give up all those transition baskets that Tech got in the first five minutes of the second half. This was a different Miner team tonight in those six minutes.”
Artis had 10 assists and six rebounds. Omega Harris scored 17 points and Flaggert hit three threes on a night where Willms and Paul Thomas combined for 13 points, including four in the first half.
“They literally had two feet in the paint from every guy on the floor, other than the guy with the ball [in the first half],” Floyd said. “And sometimes even the guy with the ball, his guy was sitting in all on top of Matt Willms. They just never left the paint, never got out of the paint and I thought our guys played with poise. They kept moving the ball just to try to move the defenders because it had been really easy for us to take a shot on one pass. We haven’t been a very good three-point shooting team. It could’ve been a real trap for our team to have not handled it. If we were going to get the same shot at the end of the possession as we were at the beginning of the possession, we might as well try to exploit and move them, and I thought the ball movement and player movement created some angles to the basket and some open looks for our guys.”
The Miners remain tied for fifth place in the Conference USA standings (with Marshall and Rice), and are a half-game behind fourth-place Old Dominion. UTEP will play four straight league road games starting this week at North Texas (Thursday) and Rice (Saturday).
“I think that the last two ballgames we had eight and six turnovers, and that’s something you want to be able to take on the road with you, that kind of poise,” Floyd said. “That’s a credit to our guards. Dominic and Omega are not getting outside of themselves right now, and it’s because of Paul’s improvement and Matt’s improvement that they’re not having to do as much. We’re a much more settled team offensively and we’ve grown offensively because of Matt’s health.
“To our kids’ credit, they’re improved in all areas – defensive rebounding, handling the ball, and our defensive field goal percentage are numbers that we feel we can take on the road with us. That’s what we mean by ‘Boys can win at home, it takes men to win on the road.’ We have to go guard on the road and we are going to play teams that are very, very capable of beating us. It will be another great test.”