UTEP’s defense has been very good in stretches, and not so good in other stretches through the first six Conference USA games.
On Saturday, when the Miners launch a three-game league road swing at UTSA, they’ll be looking for a complete performance guarding a team that ranks second in C-USA in scoring (83.6 ppg).
“They score a lot of points, they shoot a lot of threes, and they get down the floor very quickly,” Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “We’ve got to get back and get back to defending for 40 minutes. It’s been pretty good for a half here and there, but the second halves recently have been pretty poor.”
The Miners (7-11, 2-4 C-USA) will probably have to score to keep up with the Roadrunners (9-10, 2-4 C-USA), too. UTSA is led by guard Jhivvan Jackson, the highest-scoring freshman in C-USA (18.9 ppg). The product of Euless Trinity High School has scored 20+ points nine times this season with a high of 31 points at Oklahoma (Dec. 4). Jackson has scored 20+ points in four straight games and six of the last seven. He is averaging 23.0 ppg in league play. UTSA leads C-USA and rates 20th nationally with 10.4 three-pointers made per game.
If Isiah Osborne continues to score like he has in league play (16.4 ppg), the Miners can match the Roadrunners on the offensive end. Osborne picked up his second 20-point game in C-USA action when he put 21 points on the board in last Saturday’s victory over FIU.
“I’m still learning about Isiah. I think he’s gaining some confidence,” Johnson said. “I told him the same thing I told Kobe [Magee]. He went 0-for-7 from three [last Saturday], and if he sees a shot I don’t want him to hesitate. With shots, generally speaking, when you miss you’re off balance. Just a little bit can throw your entire shot off. So just maintain your balance, but if you’ve got room in space, shoot it. And we tell most of our guys that.”
Osborne showed the versatility of his game by getting to the line 10 times (making seven) against FIU.
“We have some guys that shoot the ball pretty well, and we have some guys that can drive it and don’t shoot it so well,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a couple of post-up guys. But Isiah is probably the one guy out here right now that can do both. In that game the other night, he felt like his shot wasn’t falling so he drove to the basket and got fouled quite a bit. He is the one guy that can shoot it and drive it, so we put him in situations to go do both of those.”
Magee will return to his hometown on Saturday night. He played his prep ball at Brandeis High School. He led the Broncos to a 93-30 record, including a 31-2 mark and top-10 state ranking his junior year. A four-year varsity starter, he concluded his career as Brandeis’ all-time leading scorer with 1,876 points.
“I know he’s going to want to play very well going back home,” Johnson said. “He’ll have a lot of family and friends there. They’ve got an excellent guard in Jackson who leads their team in scoring. Kobe has played against him in summer ball, and quite a bit obviously in high school as well. Those two know each other.”
The Miners, who have been short-handed in the frontcourt all season, will be even more depleted with Tirus Smith missing 2-3 weeks with a knee injury. It will be a team effort replacing his production.
“Trey Wade, Paul Thomas, Jake Flaggert, everybody,” Johnson said. “Jake and Trey Wade really are not true four men, so you have Matt at the five with no backup and Paul will go play there. When Matt gets tired we’ll bring Trey Wade and Jake Flaggert in for whoever is in foul trouble and whoever gets tired quickly. So there will be moments where Paul Thomas will be at the five and Trey Wade or Jake Flaggert at the four.”
At 2-4, the Miners are in search of road victories.
“We’re real close to being 3-3 or 4-2. It is what it is, we’re 2-4,” Johnson said. “But we actually could conceivably go from 11th place to sixth place with a win on Saturday night. There’s a lot at stake in this game coming up, really every game from here on means a lot. We’re just trying to keep moving up the ladder and go play well. It’s important for me and our team to go play well on the road.”
Saturday’s game will be televised on KMYS-CW35 in San Antonio and can be seen in El Paso on KOFX-TV. Fans in the Sun City can view the game on Time Warner Cable (channels 8 & 1206), DirectTV (channel 14), Dish Network (channel 14), AT&T U-verse (channels 14 & 1014) and Comcast (channels 8 & 213). Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. MT.
The Roadrunners have dropped three straight C-USA games overall, and three nailbiters in a row at the Convocation Center to North Texas (72-71), FIU (79-76) and Florida Atlantic (73-69). Four of UTSA’s last five league games have been decided by four points or less. UTSA is 6-3 at home this season (1-3 in C-USA games). The Roadrunners are led by guard Jhivvan Jackson, the highest-scoring freshman in C-USA (18.9 ppg). The product of Euless Trinity High School in Euless, Texas is shooting 43.2 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from downtown and 80.7 percent from the line. Jackson has scored 20+ points nine times this season with a high of 31 points at Oklahoma (Dec. 4). Jackson has scored 20+ points in four straight games and six of the last seven. He is averaging 23.0 ppg in league play. Five other players are averaging at least eight points for a UTSA squad that puts 83.6 ppg on the board (second in C-USA). Freshman guard Keaton Wallace is collecting 12.4 ppg, junior guard/forward Deon Lyle (Cloud County CC transfer) 9.3 ppg, junior forward Nick Allen 9.2 ppg and sophomore guard George Wilborn III 8.8 ppg. The Roadunners are yielding 77.7 ppg (next-to-last in C-USA), but they rate third in the league in field goal percentage defense (.415). UTSA leads C-USA and rates 20th nationally with 10.4 three-pointers made per game; the Roadrunners average 29.4 attempts while shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.
UTEP leads the series 10-3. The Miners are 6-2 versus the Roadrunners since they joined the league for the 2013-14 season. UTEP is 3-2 when playing at UTSA but has dropped two in a row to the Roadrunners in the Convocation Center.
THE LAST MEETING
UTEP blew the game open with a 13-0 run midway through the first half, and frustrated UTSA defensively throughout in a 59-39 dismantling of the Roadrunners on Jan. 21, 2017 in the Haskins Center. UTSA’s 39 points and .241 field goal percentage were the second-lowest marks by a UTEP opponent in a Conference USA game. Omega Harris scored 16 points, Paul Thomas had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Jake Flaggert scored 11 points. The 13-0 run pushed the UTEP lead from 12-10 to 25-10. Five players scored during the run, including reserves Chris Barnes and Trey Touchet. UTSA made 7-of-29 shots (24.1 percent) in both halves. The Roadrunners finished 2-for-22 from three-point range. Lucas O’Brien’s three-point play with 14:57 remaining in the half pulled UTSA within one (10-9). The Roadrunners didn’t score their next field goal until 2:32 left in the period, when J.R. Harris’ three-pointer cut an 18-point Miner lead (32-14) down to 15. In-between, UTEP outscored UTSA 22-5. The Miners maintained leads of at least 17 points throughout the second half despite shooting 27.3 percent and scoring 20 points. The Miners outrebounded UTSA, one of C-USA’s top teams on the boards, 42-37. Kelvin Jones snared 10 rebounds in a reserve role.
Isiah Osborne scored 21 points in UTEP’s 72-68 victory over FIU last Saturday in the Haskins Center. UTEP turned the ball over only seven times against FIU, which led C-USA in steals coming in (8.2 spg). The Panthers had only one steal and Brian Beard Jr., who was third nationally in steals entering the contest (3.4 spg), had zero. The Miners made their free throws (21-for-30, 70 percent), and the Panthers didn’t (14-for-30, 46.7 percent). And UTEP, minus freshman forward Tirus Smith who has a knee injury, outrebounded FIU 43-40. The Miners still struggled defensively in the second half when the Panthers shot 59.4 percent and outscored them 50-42. But they were able to hold on, going 19-for-26 from the charity stripe over the final 20 minutes. UTEP got off to a great start, leading 13-2. The Miners were up 30-18 at halftime as Paul Thomas had a big first half with nine points. FIU heated up in the second half. A 13-0 run by the Panthers erased a 45-33 deficit and gave them their first lead, 46-45, on a layup by Beard with 9:35 to go. After the teams traded baskets, the Miners scored five in a row to regain the lead, 52-48. The game was tied 53-all at the six-minute mark when UTEP put together a 10-0 run and surged in front 63-53. UTEP was firmly in control the rest of the way. Osborne did most of his damage driving to the basket and finished 7-for-10 from the line. He added seven rebounds. Evan Gilyard scored 14 points. Omega Harris and Thomas had 10 each. And Trey Wade was a stat stuffer with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in 27 minutes. Matt Willms also had eight boards along with two blocks for UTEP. Michael Douglas and Hassan Hussein led FIU with 19 points each.
HOMECOMING FOR MAGEE
Freshman guard Kobe Magee will return to his hometown this weekend. Magee played his prep ball at Brandeis High School. He led the Broncos to a 93-30 record, including a 31-2 mark and top-10 state ranking his junior year. Magee was named the 2017 District 28-6A Offensive MVP and All-Region by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC). A four-year varsity starter, he concluded his career as Brandeis’ all-time leading scorer with 1,876 points. Magee has started the last 10 games for UTEP and is averaging 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He is second on the team in assists (33) this season.
MAGEE’S FAST START IN C-USA PLAY
Freshman guard Kobe Magee is shooting 68.4 percent (13-for-19) from three-point range in Conference USA games to rank first in C-USA. He also ranks fourth in assist/turnover ratio (3.0) for league games only. Magee, who has started the last 10 games, dished out eight assists at LA Tech — the most by a UTEP player in 2017-18. It also marked the most dimes by a Miner freshman since Malik Alvin recorded eight versus Toledo on Dec. 23, 2006.
GILYARD’S PRODUCTIVE WEEKEND
Freshman guard Evan Gilyard put up strong numbers in last weekend’s homestand. Gilyard scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time as a Miner, averaging 17.0 ppg as UTEP beat FIU and lost to Florida Atlantic. He scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half against the Owls. He made 5-of-9 shots and 3-of-5 three pointers over the final 20 minutes versus FAU. Gilyard added 14 points and was 8-for-8 from the line in the second half (9-for-10 for the game) as the Miners held off the Panthers. He finished the week 9-for-19 from the field, 4-for-8 from downtown and 12-for-14 from the charity stripe while adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 41 minutes over the two contests.
BACK-TO-BACK GAMES IN DF FOR GILYARD
Evan Gilyard is the third freshman to put together consecutive double-figure scoring games this season. Tirus Smith did so versus Incarnate Word (15 points) and Howard (17 points), and Trey Wade achieved the feat against Lamar (13 points) and NM State (11 points). UTEP hasn’t had a freshman compile three straight games with 10+ points since Terry Winn had a seven-gamer during the 2015-16 season.
MINERS PLANT FOUR IN DOUBLE FIGURES
UTEP placed four players in double figure scoring for the second time in six C-USA games on Saturday versus FIU. The first time this happened was on Jan. 4 at Southern Miss. Isiah Osborne tallied 21 points, Evan Gilyard 14, Omega Harris 10 and Paul Thomas 10 against the Panthers. UTEP is 5-2 this season when four or more players score in double digits.
TWO PLAYERS WITH 10 FREE THROW ATTEMPTS
Evan Gilyard and Isiah Osborne were a combined 16-for-20 from the line in UTEP’s 72-68 triumph over FIU on Saturday. Both went to the line a season-high 10 times. Tirus Smith is the only other Miner to shoot 10 free throws in a game this season (versus Howard). Prior to Saturday, the last time UTEP had two players with 10+ free throw attempts in a game was on Nov. 27, 2015 against Southern Illinois when Lee Moore had 11 attempts and Terry Winn had 10.
GETTING TO THE CHARITY STRIPE
UTEP matched its season-high for free throws made (21) against FIU, and the 30 free throw attempts were a season best. The previous high was 27 attempted versus New Mexico on Dec. 2. UTEP went to the line 30+ times on four occasions during the 2016-17 campaign.
VERY FEW TURNOVERS
The Miners improved to 4-1 this season when they have single-digit turnovers in last Saturday’s 72-68 conquest of FIU. UTEP committed only seven turnovers against the Panthers. The Miners have had nine or fewer giveaways in five of the last 10 games after committing 11 or more in each of the first eight contests.
Seventy has been a magic number of sorts for the Miners in 2017-18 as six of their seven wins have come when they notch 70 points or more. UTEP is 1-7 when scoring less than 70 points. The Miners dropped consecutive games at Southern Miss (85-75) and LA Tech (97-88) when scoring 70 prior to breaking through with a 72-68 victory over FIU.
HOLDING ‘EM UNDER 70
UTEP yielded 70+ points in three consecutive games, tying its season-long streak, before holding FIU to 68 on Saturday. The 72-68 win made the Miners 6-4 in 2017-18 when surrendering less than 70 points (UTEP is 1-7 when giving up 70 or more).
WINNING THE REBOUNDING WAR
For all their troubles on the glass this season (-3.9 rebound margin), the Miners have now outrebounded four of their first six conference opponents. UTEP outrebounded its first three league foes (North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss) for the first time since the 2007-08 season. And last Saturday versus FIU, the Miners controlled the glass 43-40. UTEP’s rebound margin is -1.2 in C-USA action, but if you throw out the Florida Atlantic game where the Miners were pummeled 49-33, the margin becomes a much more respectable +1.8.
SIX BLOCKS, LED BY WADE
The Miners recorded six blocked shots in last Saturday’s victory over FIU, their most in a conference game since Feb. 25, 2016 at Old Dominion (six). Freshman guard Trey Wade registered four rejections for the second time this season (South Carolina). He is the first UTEP freshman to tally four blocks in a game since Matt Willms versus Loyola (New Orleans) on Nov. 9, 2013. Wade is second on the team in blocks with 12 despite playing in only 12 of 18 games.
SPEAKING OF WADE …
Trey Wade put together the best all-around game of his young UTEP career the last time out versus FIU. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in a career-high 27 minutes. At 6-6 and in a reserve role, Wade has led the Miners in rebounding in three of the last five games.
Sophomore guard Isiah Osborne got a DNP in the Miners’ first C-USA game against Rice. Since then, he has been UTEP’s best player in league action. Osborne is averaging 16.4 ppg in conference games only, shooting 50 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three-point territory. He has scored 60 of his 82 points in the second half in league play. Osborne put 25 points on the board at LA Tech, and added 21 points versus FIU last Saturday.
GOING THE DISTANCE
Isiah Osborne became the second Miner to play a full game in 2017-18 the last time out versus FIU. Omega Harris played 40 minutes against Boise State, Incarnate Word and Howard. After averaging 21.2 minutes in non-conference play, Osborne is collecting 31.2 mpg against C-USA competition.
After averaging 67.9 points per game during the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Miners are scoring at a 73.8 ppg clip in Conference USA action. UTEP has also raised its field goal percentage from .424 to .479 and its three-point percentage from .298 to .446. The Miners averaged over 70 points per game in league play five times during their first 12 years as a member of C-USA, with a high water mark of 77.3 ppg in 2015-16. UTEP is second in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage, third in field goal percentage, and fourth in three-pointers made per game (9.0) for league games only.
HARRIS NOW 13TH ON SCORING LIST
Senior guard Omega Harris scored 20+ points for the second time this season, and the 13th time in his career at LA Tech on Jan. 6. He currently stands in 13th place on the Miners’ all-time scoring list (1,256 points). He is chasing Jim Barnes, the no. 1 pick in the 1964 NBA Draft who is in 12th place with 1,308 points. Harris also ranks fourth in school history in three-point field goals (153), 11th in minutes (3,328) and 13th in steals (114).
DOUBLE FIGURES OFF THE PINE
Seven different players have scored in double figures off the bench in a game for UTEP this season. Listed alphabetically, they are Keith Frazier (versus Appalachian State & North Texas), Evan Gilyard (Washington State, Florida Atlantic & FIU), Kobe Magee (New Mexico), Isiah Osborne (Louisiana College, Rice & Southern Miss), Tirus Smith (Incarnate Word), Trey Wade (Louisiana College, Lamar & Rice) and Matt Willms (North Texas & Southern Miss).
UTEP has averaged 79.6 points per game in its seven victories this season, as five players have averaged at least 10 points per game (Keith Frazier 16.0 ppg, Omega Harris 15.0 ppg, Isiah Osborne 12.0 ppg, Trey Wade 11.7 ppg, Paul Thomas 10.0 ppg). The Miners have shot 49.1 percent from the field (196-for-399) in their wins and have a positive (+1.4) rebound margin. They have also forced 95 turnovers (13.6 avg.) while coughing up the basketball only 73 times (10.4 avg.). Another stat that jumps out at you in the Miners’ seven victories is a 21-4 advantage in blocked shots, helping lead to a .379 (152-for-401) defensive field goal percentage.
Three members of this year’s team have played in 100 games for the Miners. Jake Flaggert leads the way with 110 contests, while Omega Harris and Matt Willms have both appeared in 106 games.