Nick Billingsley scored 17 points in a reserve role, leading UTSA to a 67-55 win over UTEP in the Conference USA opener for both schools on Sunday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
The Miners (2-11, 0-1 C-USA) took a 38-37 lead, their last of the game, on a layup by Dominic Artis with 14:40 remaining. But they went cold after that, managing only two field goals over the next nine minutes. UTSA wasn’t much more prolific offensively during the stretch, outscoring the Miners 13-4 to go ahead 50-42.
Artis cut the eight-point deficit down to five (50-45) on a three-pointer with 5:29 left. But the Roadrunners scored the next seven points, including five from Lucas O’Brien, to put it away.
UTSA (6-8, 1-0 C-USA) improved to 6-0 at home this season under first-year head coach Steve Henson.
“You give them credit,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They are leading the league in defensive field goal percentage. We got into the lane and we didn’t play with any strength in the lane. We double-clutched shots, jumped in the air, tried to make plays and made poor decisions because of their good help.”
UTEP shot 44.7 percent for the game, but that number cooled off to 40.9 percent in the second half. The Miners scored nine field goals in the final 20 minutes, but three of those came over the final 2:37, and all from Artis who scored 18 points.
The Miners coughed up the ball 16 times, leading to 22 points for the home team.
“We turned it over too much,” Floyd said. “Guys got in the lane consistently but didn’t make consistent plays. When we threw it to the post we didn’t make them pay enough. They did a nice job with their interior defense digging in.”
Besides UTSA turning it over only nine times, free throws were a difference-maker as the Roadrunners were 24-for-30 at the stripe and UTEP was 10-for-19, including 6-for-13 in the second half. The Miners made their last three free throws after starting the second half 3-for-10.
“We fouled too much,” Floyd said. “We fouled in late clock situations, under 10 seconds. We fouled a three-point shooter in the first half with three seconds to go on the shot clock. We fouled late game, under 10 seconds, things that showed no defensive poise in a game. The 30 free throw attempts was a differential along with our 16 turnovers. Too many turnovers from people that we have to rely on to make solid plays night in and night out.”
UTEP fell behind 19-9 midway through the first half, but rallied to take its second lead of the game, 25-23, on a jumper by Omega Harris with 2:54 remaining in the half. That capped a 16-4 run. The Miners led 30-29 at halftime.
Harris scored 12 points. Paul Thomas had seven points and nine rebounds and Matt Willms added six points and eight boards. But the Miners lost the rebounding battle 34-32.
O’Brien and Gino Littles scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, for UTSA.
The Miners will hit the road once again for games at LA Tech (Thursday, 5:30 p.m. MT) and Southern Miss (Saturday, 3 p.m. MT) this week. LA Tech won at Southern Miss, 79-55, in its league opener earlier on Sunday.
“It was a real opportunity for us here today,” Floyd said. “We didn’t take advantage of it and we’ve got to go back on the road for two more.”