• September 22, 2021
 HP Sports In-Depth: Miners Looking to Shore Up Deficiencies Against LA Tech

FILE: The Miners will play at defending C-USA champ Middle Tennessee on Saturday, then host WKU and Marshall next week.

HP Sports In-Depth: Miners Looking to Shore Up Deficiencies Against LA Tech

RUSTON, LA. – The UTEP men’s basketball team arrived in Ruston, La. mid-afternoon on Friday and went right to work preparing for the LA Tech Bulldogs.  Tip-off for Saturday’s game is set for 5 p.m. MT.

UTEP (6-9, 1-2 C-USA) dropped an 85-75 decision at Southern Miss on Thursday night as the Golden Eagles posted the best field goal percentage (.603) by a Miner opponent since 2009.  Southern Miss’ 85 points were also a season high by a UTEP adversary.

“We’ve got to address ourselves,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said.  “Obviously we’ll be ready for LA Tech.  But the turnovers the other night, and the lack of guarding the drive, was really poor.  So we’re going to address that here tonight.”

There were some good things that came out of Thursday’s loss.  The Miners outrebounded their third straight C-USA opponent, 32-26.  The Miners have outboarded their first three C-USA foes for the first time since the 2007-08 season.  UTEP scored 75 points or more for the fifth time in its last six C-USA road games dating back to the 2016-17 season.

The Miners’ .680 field goal percentage in the second half at Southern Miss was their second-best in a frame this season (UTEP shot 71.4 percent in the second half versus Rice on Dec. 30).  For the second straight game, UTEP got a big night out of its bench as the reserves scored 37 points.  UTEP’s bench is averaging 38.7 ppg in C-USA play, and has outscored opponents 116-45.

The Miners have also made 11 or more three-pointers in back-to-back games for the first time since January of 1995.  The Miners are first in C-USA in field goal percentage (.494) and three-point field goal percentage (.500) for conference games only.  UTEP’s 9.3 three-pointers made per game in league play ranks second behind Rice’s 11.0.  Scoring-wise, the Miners are tied for fifth with 72.3 ppg through three league contests.  Outside of the turnovers, the offense hasn’t been the big problem.

The Miners need to get back to defending like they did in the six games prior to Southern Miss, where they consistently yielded less than 70 points.

LA Tech, meanwhile, has had its own troubles.  After opening the season 5-0, the Bulldogs are 4-7 over their last 11 games.  LA Tech has lost back-to-back games at the Thomas Assembly Center, falling to Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 12 (75-71) and UTSA on Thursday.  The Bulldogs are 1-3 in their last four outings in Ruston after winning their first four home games of the season.

LA Tech is 2-3 since sophomore guard Jalen Harris (15.3 ppg/4.5 rpg), a member of last year’s C-USA All-Freshman Team, announced that he would be leaving the program.

With Harris gone, the Bulldogs have two players averaging double figures in scoring with sophomore guard DaQuan Bracey collecting 15.3 ppg, and senior guard Jacobi Boykins contributing 14.8 ppg.  Bracey is shooting 47.5 percent from the field, and Boykins is shooting 93.1 percent from the line.  Together they have made 65-of-163 three-point attempts (39.9 percent).

LA Tech is second in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage (.381) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.324).  The Bulldogs are third in blocked shots (4.4 bpg) and scoring margin (+8.9 ppg).  Boykins leads the league in free throw percentage, and junior guard Derric Jean is third in three-point percentage (.478).

Boykins scored 24 points in the loss to UTSA on Thursday and is averaging a team-leading 17.7 ppg in C-USA play, shooting 94.4 percent (17-for-18) from the charity stripe.  Through Thursday’s games, the Bulldogs rated 19th nationally in free throws made (271), and 30th in free throw attempts (369).  Boykins was sixth in the country in free throw percentage.

“We’re going to see a really explosive offensive backcourt, maybe the most explosive backcourt in our league,” Johnson said.  “Marshall would be right there with them.  But Bracey and Boykins can really score.  Bracey was freshman of the year in our league last year.  He is a tremendous driver.  He has added a three-point shot to this game.  Obviously he worked really hard over the summer.  Boykins is probably the best shooter in our league and maybe one of the best in the country.  So that’s where it starts, taking care of those two guys.”

The Miners are shooting for their first win at LA Tech since 2004, which would square their C-USA mark at 2-2 heading into a two-game set against Florida Atlantic (Jan. 11) and FIU (Jan. 13) next weekend in the Haskins Center.

***Miners in Depth

ABOUT LA TECH
After opening the season 5-0, the Bulldogs are 4-7 over their last 11 games.  LA Tech has lost back-to-back games at the Thomas Assembly Center, falling to Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 12 (75-71) and UTSA on Thursday.  The Bulldogs are 1-3 in their last four outings in Ruston after winning their first four home games of the season.  LA Tech is 2-3 since sophomore guard Jalen Harris (15.3 ppg/4.5 rpg), a member of last year’s C-USA All-Freshman Team, announced that he would be leaving the program.  With Harris gone, the Bulldogs have two players averaging double figures in scoring with sophomore guard DaQuan Bracey collecting 15.3 ppg, and senior guard Jacobi Boykins contributing 14.8 ppg.  Bracey is shooting 47.5 percent from the field, and Boykins is shooting 93.1 percent from the line.  Together they have made 65-of-163 three-point attempts (39.9 percent).  LA Tech is second in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage (.381) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.324).  The Bulldogs are third in blocked shots (4.4 bpg) and scoring margin (+8.9 ppg).  Boykins leads the league in free throw percentage, and junior guard Derric Jean is third in three-point percentage (.478).  Boykins scored 24 points in the loss to UTSA on Thursday and is averaging a team-leading 17.7 ppg in C-USA play, shooting 94.4 percent (17-for-18) from the charity stripe.  Through Thursday’s games, the Bulldogs rated 19th nationally in free throws made (271), and 30th in free throw attempts (369).  Boykins was sixth in the country in free throw percentage.

SERIES HISTORY
LA Tech leads the series 12-10.  The Miners are 1-8 against LA Tech in games played in Ruston.  The lone win came on Feb. 26, 2004 by the score of 76-65.  UTEP and LA Tech were joint members of the Western Athletic Conference from 2001-05.  The Miners went 5-4 versus the Bulldogs during that stretch, including 1-3 in Ruston.  UTEP is 2-5 versus LA Tech since the Bulldogs joined Conference USA for the 2013-14 season (2-2 home, 0-3 away).

THE LAST MEETING
The Miners neared pulled off another stirring comeback victory, but Dominic Artis’ three-pointer with four seconds remaining was no good and LA Tech hold on for a 62-61 victory on Feb. 9, 2017 in El Paso.  Derric Jean put the Bulldogs ahead 62-54 on a free throw with 3:45 to play.  The Miners would score the next seven points and the Bulldogs wouldn’t score again.  But UTEP missed two chances to win it in the final minute.  Artis turned it over with 42 seconds left before missing the three.  UTEP was victimized by a 13-for-23 night at the foul line.  That was a key stat, as was LA Tech making 7-of-15 three pointers in the second half and 11-of-26 for the game.  The first half went the Miners’ way for the most part, as they led by as many as nine points (28-19) and went to the locker room up 30-24.  LA Tech used a 21-3 run early in the second half to turn a 32-24 deficit into a 45-35 lead.  Erik McCree led the Bulldogs with 19 points and eight rebounds.  He was 4-for-4 from three-point range, including 3-for-3 in the second half when he scored 14 points.  The Miners placed four players in double figure scoring — Omega Harris (14 points), Matt Willms (13), Artis (12) and Paul Thomas (11).  Thomas pulled down 13 rebounds.  DaQuan Bracey dished out seven of his 10 assists in the second half for LA Tech, which shot 29.2 percent in the second half but heated up to 50 percent (14-for-28) over the final 20 minutes.

LAST GAME
Southern Miss shot 60 percent from the field, including 74 percent in the second half, and ran away to an 85-75 victory over UTEP on Thursday at Reed Green Coliseum.  The Golden Eagles led by as many as 23 points in beating the Miners for the seventh straight time in Hattiesburg.  Southern Miss is 6-0 at home this season.  The Miners, playing their first road game since Nov. 25, shot 31 percent in the first half and led only once at 2-0.  Despite their struggles putting the ball in the basket, the Miners were only down four (24-20) when Tirus Smith scored a jumper with 3:31 remaining in the half.  Southern Miss outscored UTEP 11-4 over the final 3:15 to take a 35-24 lead to the locker room.  The second half was also a struggle, as it got away from the Miners after they pulled within seven (39-32) on back-to-back three pointers by Kobe Magee and Omega Harris.  The Golden Eagles answered with a 14-2 run and pushed the lead to 19 (53-34).  A late flurry by the Miners made the final score respectable as they trimmed a 22-point lead down to 10 in the final four and a half minutes.  UTEP shot 68 percent in the second half, but only outscored Southern Miss by one point (51-50) over the final 20 minutes.  Isiah Osborne matched his season-high with 17 points (6-for-10 FGs, 3-for-6 3FGs, 2-for-2 FTs) for UTEP.  Harris and Matt Willms scored 11 points each, and Trey Touchet added 10.  Southern Miss’ top three players – Cortez Edwards, Tyree Griffin and Dominic Magee – combined for 54 points.  They made 23-of-32 shots.  Edwards led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds, and Griffin scored 19 points.

MINERS SADDLED WITH ROAD LOSS COMING OFF NINE-GAME HOMESTAND
The Miners fell to 46-53 all-time in Conference USA road games with Thursday’s 85-75 setback at Southern Miss.  UTEP had its five-game C-USA road win streak snapped with the defeat.  A huge break between road games might have been a factor, as the Miners were playing their first game outside of El Paso since Nov. 25 following a season-long nine-game homestand.  Prior to this season, the last time the Miners played their final non-conference road game as early as Nov. 25 was in 1997-98.  UTEP won at New Mexico State, 56-54, on Nov. 25, 1997.  The Miners dropped their WAC road opener at Wyoming, 65-46, on Jan. 8, 1998.  Overall this season marked only the second time since 1970 that the Miners played their final non-league road game as early as Nov. 25.  During the 1969-70 season, UTEP played zero non-conference road games (but two neutral site games) and was victorious in its first road game at Colorado State, 77-64, on Jan. 8, 1970.  Incidentally, that was UTEP’s first-ever Western Athletic Conference game.  With the loss to Southern Miss on Thursday, UTEP is now 0-5 away from El Paso in 2017-18, including an 0-3 mark in neutral site games.   The Miners have dropped their first five games outside of the Sun City for the first time since the 2012-13 season when they opened by losing at Arizona, followed by posting an 0-3 mark in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando and falling at Colorado State.  UTEP broke through with a 66-57 victory at Tulane in its C-USA opener and would go on to finish 4-4 in C-USA road games.

POSITIVE THINKING
There were some good things that came out of Thursday’s loss at Southern Miss.  The Miners outrebounded their third straight C-USA opponent, 32-26.  The Miners have outboarded their first three C-USA foes for the first time since the 2007-08 season.  UTEP scored 75 points or more for the fifth time in its last six C-USA road games dating back to the 2016-17 season.  The Miners’ .680 field goal percentage in the second half at Southern Miss was their second-best in a frame this season (UTEP shot 71.4 percent in the second half versus Rice on Dec. 30).  For the second straight game, UTEP got a big night out of its bench as the reserves scored 37 points.  UTEP’s bench is averaging 38.7 ppg in C-USA play, and has outscored opponents 116-45.

ON THE REBOUND
UTEP has outrebounded three straight opponents for the first time this season.  The Miners have had the edge on the boards in their first three C-USA games for the first time since 2007-08, when they outrebounded SMU (40-30), Rice (38-37) and Houston (45-42) to tip off league play.  UTEP hasn’t outrebounded four consecutive C-USA opponents since the 2005-06 season.  The Miners outboarded their first six league adversaries (SMU twice, East Carolina, Tulane, Marshall, Houston) that year.  Since then, UTEP hasn’t outrebounded more than three consecutive C-USA teams in a row in any season.  The Miners’ rebound margin in C-USA games this season (+4.0) rates fourth in the league, behind Old Dominion (+10.5), Marshall (+8.0) and UTSA (+5.7).  UTEP’s rebounding defense of 30.7 per game for league games only is tops in C-USA, with Marshall second (32.0 rpg).

THE TABLES HAVE TURNED?
UTEP entered the Southern Miss game ranked second in C-USA in scoring defense (66.9 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.401).  After the Golden Eagles torched them for 85 points and a .603 field goal percentage, the Miners have dropped to third in the respective categories (68.1 ppg, .415 defensive field goal percentage).  What’s interesting is that UTEP looks like more of an offensive juggernaut through three league games.  The Miners are first in C-USA in field goal percentage (.494), and three-point field goal percentage (.500) for conference games only.  UTEP’s 9.3 three-pointers made per game in league play ranks second behind Rice’s 11.0.  Scoring-wise, the Miners are tied for fifth with 72.3 ppg through three league contests.

MINERS HIT 23 THREES IN TWO GAMES
Over the last two games, the Miners have made 23-of-39 three-point shots (59 percent), and the number is even more obscene over the second half of those games (17-for-22, 77.3 percent).  UTEP made 12 three-pointers versus Rice, and 11 at Southern Miss.  The Miners have made 11 or more threes in back-to-back games for the first time since January of 1995 against BYU (14) and Utah (11).  UTEP has made double-digit triples back-to-back for the first time since December of 2009 versus Alcorn State (11) and Oklahoma (10).  The last time UTEP made 23 or more threes in back-to-back games was last season versus Northwestern State (eight) and at New Mexico (15).

STANDOUTS VERSUS SOUTHERN MISS
Isiah Osborne continued his strong play in C-USA action against Southern Miss, matching his season-high with 17 points.  In two league games (did not play against North Texas), Osborne is averaging a team-high 16.0 ppg while shooting 60 percent (12-for-20) from the field, 54.5 percent (6-for-11) from outside and 100 percent (2-for-2) from the line.  He also has one turnover in 53 minutes in C-USA games.  Trey Touchet scored in double figures for the sixth time as a Miner (first time this season) at Southern Miss.  He scored all 10 of his points in the second half.  Touchet is 9-for-12 from the field (.750), 2-for-3 from beyond the arc (.667) and 2-for-2 from the line (1.000) while starting all three league games.  He has also posted a solid assist/turnover ratio of 3.5 (seven assists/two turnovers) against C-USA opponents.

STRANGE BUT TRUE FACT OF THE WEEK
UTEP has the C-USA leader and runner-up in field goal percentage in league play only, and they’re both guards!  Kobe Magee has made 9-of-11 shots in conference play (81.8 percent).  Trey Touchet is tied for second in the league with Old Dominion’s Trey Porter, making 9-of-12 shots (75 percent).  Trey Wade is eighth in C-USA in field goal percentage for league games only (12-for-22, 54.5 percent).  UTEP is the only C-USA team with three players listed in the top-10 for field goal percentage in league games only. Magee, by the way, is also second in three-point field goal percentage in conference play (8-for-9, 88.9 percent) behind WKU’s Justin Johnson who is a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown.  In another fact from bizarro world, the Miners’ 7’1” big man Matt Willms is tied for 15th in free throw percentage for conference games as he’s 8-for-10 (.800) from the stripe.

FRESHMEN LEAD IN C-USA WIN OVER RICE
The Miners received a season-high 38 points from four freshmen (Evan Gilyard, Kobe Magee, Tirus Smith, Trey Wade) in their first C-USA win over Rice.  Gilyard, Magee, Smith and Wade combined to make 15-of-23 field goal attempts and 6-of-9 three point tries versus the Owls.  Two freshmen (Magee 12 points, Wade 16 points) scored in double figures for the second time in 2017-18 (also happened against Incarnate Word).  UTEP is 3-0 this season when Magee scores in double digits and 2-0 when Smith does so.

BENCH OUTSCORING STARTERS
For the fourth time this season, UTEP’s bench (42 points) outscored the starters (38 points) against Rice on Dec. 30.  This also happened versus Appalachian State (starters 32 points, bench 40 points), Lamar (starters 24 points, bench 28 points) and North Texas (starters 25 points, bench 37 points).  Overall this season, starters have scored 678 points and reserves have tallied 354.  In C-USA play, starters have scored 101 points and reserves have scored 116.

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 and North Texas), Evan Gilyard (Washington State), 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).

WINNING FORMULA
UTEP has averaged 80.8 points per game in its six victories this season, as five players have averaged at least 10 points per game (Keith Frazier 16.0 ppg, Omega Harris 15.8 ppg, Trey Wade 13.0 ppg, Isiah Osborne 10.2 ppg, Paul Thomas 10.0 ppg).  The Miners have shot 50.3 percent from the field (172-for-342) in their wins and have a positive (+1.0) rebound margin.  They have also forced 90 turnovers (15.0 avg.) while coughing up the basketball only 66 times (11.0 avg.).  Another stat that jumps out at you in the Miners’ six victories is a 15-3 advantage in blocked shots, helping lead to a .372 (127-for-341) defensive field goal percentage.

FRESHMEN PG’S PLAYING BIG ROLE IN BALL SECURITY
The Miners have committed 10 turnovers or fewer in five of the last seven games, and that has coincided with freshmen point guards Evan Gilyard and Kobe Magee doing a better job of protecting the basketball.  In the five games with 10 turnovers or less (Washington State, Howard, North Dakota State, North Texas, Rice), Gilyard has played a total of 76 minutes with one turnover.  During the same stretch, Magee has played 131 minutes with one turnover.  In three conference games, UTEP’s three primary point guards — Gilyard, Magee and Trey Touchet — have combined to play 179 minutes with seven turnovers (six of those came at Southern Miss).  Magee has played 67 minutes versus C-USA teams with one turnover, and Touchet has played 59 minutes with two turnovers.

Staff Report

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