SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA – The UTEP men’s basketball team wrapped up a productive three-game stint in Costa Rica with a 78-73 triumph over the University of British Columbia on Friday morning.
The Miners had a big second quarter, outscoring UBC 16-4 to instate a 39-27 halftime lead. They led by as many as 15 points (68-53) in the second half, shooting 47.6 percent (30-for-63) from the field on the day. A 12-0 run to start the second period enabled the Miners to pull away from a 23-23 deadlock at the end of the first quarter.
UTEP played three games in San Jose, dropping a pair of tight decisions to another Canadian team, McGill University (56-54 and 86-82) on Wednesday and Thursday. Earlier this month, McGill took SMU to overtime and beat Kent State, a 22-game winner and NCAA Tournament participant in 2016-17.
In the end the trip to Costa Rica wasn’t about wins and losses, it was about building team chemistry while affording coach Tim Floyd and his staff the opportunity to experiment with numerous lineup combinations.
“It’s about trying to get some of our younger guys minutes and putting them in situations that they haven’t been in,” Floyd said. “There were times that we played three big guys, times that we played three point guards, times that we moved Isiah Osborne from small forward to the point, just because we know that throughout the course of the season we’re going to be in those situations.”
The statistics show that 12 of the 13 Miners who made the trip saw action over the last three days. Freshman guard Evan Gilyard was with the team but didn’t play while nursing a shoulder injury.
Sophomore guard Isiah Osborne led the team in minutes (94, 31.3 avg.), while seven Miners were on the floor for 50 minutes or more. Osborne and freshman guard Trey Wade paced the squad with 11.3 points per game, while sophomore center Kelvin Jones averaged 10.3 ppg, senior center Matt Willms 9.0 ppg, senior guard Omega Harris 8.3 ppg and junior forward Paul Thomas 8.3 ppg.
Osborne was the leading rebounder with 6.0 per game, while Wade posted a double-double against UBC with 16 points and 11 boards.
The trip wasn’t just about basketball. The Miners toured San Jose, visited a local orphanage, sampled the local culture and food, and have more activities planned on Saturday before returning to El Paso on Sunday morning.
The team will take a break from mandatory activities until early October when practice officially resumes for the 2017-18 season. UTEP already has a major head start on the upcoming campaign with three games and 16 practices under its belt.
“I thought it was a good week,” Floyd said. “We know that we’ve got a lot of work to do in October, but every team does. I like the fact that our guys were able to bond and get together. We didn’t play Matt Willms any minutes. We tried to play Kelvin Jones a lot of minutes. We didn’t play Paul Thomas and Omega Harris today because it wasn’t about any of those things, and it hasn’t been for the last three days. This is going to be a good basketball team before the season is over, and I think this experience is really going to help us.”