ALBUQUERQUE – In a hard-fought contest, five Miners scored in double-digits figures and UTEP outrebounded New Mexico, but the Lobos used late three-pointers to claim an 84-78 victory in The Pit on Saturday night.
Freshmen Nigel Hawkins (12 points) and Jordan Lathon (10 points) each hit career highs, while Lathon paced the Miners with four assists. Efe Odigie (11 points), the Conference USA leading rebounding entering the game Saturday night, came up a rebound short of his third consecutive double-double, Paul Thomas scored a season-high 16 points and Evan Gilyard (22 points) led the squad in scoring for the fourth time this season, connecting on 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Defensively, UTEP battled, as it registered season highs in blocked shots (seven) and steals (seven). Thomas and Kaosi Ezeagu registered a pair of blocks apiece, while Odigie, Lathon and Hawkins each registered one. Hawkins led the team with two steals.
But after a 34-29 UTEP advantage at the half, New Mexico (3-1) used a big second half, outscoring UTEP (2-3), 55-44, during the second half, while connecting on 8-of-11 three-pointers.
“We fought and we battled hard tonight. I thought we did a nice job guarding in the first half, I thought we finished possessions and for the game, we we’re plus five on the rebounding side,” first-year UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said. “Those were definitely bright spots for us in this game. In the second half with our shooting defense we would have to guard [Anthony] Mathis and [Dane] Kuiper. Those are two key guys that can scored for [New Mexico]. They got some air space and you have to give those guys credit.”
Zeros were on the board till the 16:16 mark when Ezeagu ripped down an offensive rebound and put the ball back in the hoop for the games’ first points as the Miners opened the ball game with a 7-0 run. Lathon put his team up 5-0 on a three-point bucket and Thomas converted a layup at the 12:59 mark.
UNM finally got on the board on a Vance Jackson three pointer following Thomas’s layup.
The Miners took advantage of New Mexico’s poor shooting during the first half (7-of-30) and built 10-point leads on multiple occasions.
The first came on Lathon’s second made trey at the 7:45 mark, making the count 17-7, Hawkins put the Miners up 21-11 on two made free throws (6:30), Gilyard made a three-point basket at the 5:43 mark (23-13) and Thomas converted a three-point play to made the score 26-16 at the 5:12 mark.
However, the Lobos outscored UTEP 13-8 the remainder of the half to cut the deficit to five points heading into the locker room
The Miners came out of the tunnel and built their lead to seven (40-33) after a Lathon two-point jumper at the 18:22 mark and again at the 15:19 mark when Odigie made the score 47-40 on a basket in the paint.
But the Lobo’s 11,000-plus fans were loud and hostile during the second half. Anthony Mathis put his squad up 55-53 on a three-pointer at the 12:11 mark and UNM never trailed again. The Miners tied the ball game at 57-57 on a Lathon mid-range jumper (9:44) and Thomas tied the game on a layup at 59 apiece with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.
Even though UNM kept making big baskets down the stretch, the Miners would answer. Vance Jackson’s layup put UNM up 69-62, but Gilyard responded with a three-pointer at the 5:53 mark.
After exchanging baskets during the next few minutes, Odigie converted a pair of free throws with ease to get the Miners within two points with just over two minutes remaining. But Kuiper and Jackson made clutch three-pointers down stretch. Hawkins converted two free throws and made a layup on a fast break to keep the Miners within striking distance. But it wasn’t enough in the end.
UTEP outrebounded UNM, 37-32, while tallying 12 assists. Gilles Dekoninck played over six minutes, registering a point and two rebounds, while Kobe Magee played over 24 minutes. He recorded two assists, two rebounds and a steal. Ezeagu scored six points and pulled down five rebounds. He scored four of his points off a pair of offensive rebounds.
“My young guys are definitely growing up every night,” Terry said. “This was a great growing experience for us in a hostile environment. The thing I’m proud of tonight is we had a lot of resistance tonight. There have been games where there has been hostile environments and we haven’t had a lot of resistance to stay in games to make it a game down the stretch. We did that tonight.”
Mathis was perfect from downtown (4-for-4 all in the second half) as he led the way for UNM with 18 points and Jackson chipped in with 12 points. Makuach Maluach scored 13 points on 3-of-4 three-point shooting.
UTEP will host rival NM State in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 on Wednesday, November 28 in the Don Haskins Center with tip-off set for 7 p.m.