Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said of this week’s homestand. “We want to play well in front of our home fans. We’re back in the friendly confines of the Don. Our guys are eager to go win. We need to win, we need to get a ‘W’ under our belt and get back to defending the way we know we can defend…”
A year ago, the UTEP men’s basketball team started the season by winning two of its first 15 games. Then FIU and Florida Atlantic came to the Don Haskins Center, and a pair of inspirational, overtime victories spurred the Miners to a 13-4 finish.
Fast forward to 2018, and the Miners are in a similar position with a 6-10 mark through 16 contests. And lo and behold, here comes Florida Atlantic (Thursday) and FIU (Saturday) to El Paso as UTEP seeks another bounce back halfway through the campaign.
“It’s very important,” Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said of this week’s homestand. “We want to play well in front of our home fans. We’re back in the friendly confines of the Don. Our guys are eager to go win. We need to win, we need to get a ‘W’ under our belt and get back to defending the way we know we can defend. Two weeks ago, we were second in the league in field goal percentage defense and I think we’ve dropped to fourth or fifth. That in itself isn’t the end-all, but we’d like to be near the top in field goal percentage defense.”
UTEP is coming off a pair of losses at Southern Miss and LA Tech, but Johnson saw a lot of positives in the Miners’ first C-USA road trip of the season.
“We got really good play from Isiah Osborne,” he said. “Both he and Omega Harris played very well offensively at LA Tech. And at times we showed signs of playing really solid defense. Looking back at the film, they scored 97 points, which is uncharacteristic of our defense. But a lot of them were points off turnovers and points off of fouls. Our defense wasn’t as bad as I thought after looking at the film. We just fouled too much.”
A UTEP team that has made 11 or more three-pointers in three consecutive games for the first time in school history – and averaged 81 points in the process – is back to full strength with the return of graduate transfer Keith Frazier. The Dallas native, who missed the last three games on a leave of absence, is averaging a team-leading 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds this season.
“He’s back practicing with us and we’ll see how it goes,” Johnson said. “I think he’s in good spirits. I had a nice talk with him yesterday. I want to see what kind of condition he’s in. We have added a few things since he’s been gone, so we’ll have to incorporate him and see how well he picks up some of the new stuff that we’re doing.”
Florida Atlantic is the only winless team in C-USA play and stands 6-9 overall, 0-3 in the league. But the Owls dropped close contests to FIU (58-57) in Miami and Middle Tennessee (61-57) in Boca Raton. A trio of seniors – center Ronald Delph (13.2 ppg/8.8 rpg/1.9 bpg) and guards Gerdarius Troutman (12.9 ppg) and Justin Massey (12.6 ppg) – are the team’s leading scorers. Delph is coming off a 17-point, nine-rebound, four-block effort against league-leading Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
“They have probably the best center in our league and that’s where it starts with them,” Johnson said. “I know they’re going to play a real packed in defense. Troutman is a terrific shooter and Delph is a real presence at seven feet. I’ve watched teams and what they do to him. Middle Tennessee tried to double team him, and it wasn’t that effective. And teams try to play him straight up and that’s a problem. So we’ll have to address how we defend Delph.”
The Miners still have at least 15 games remaining, plenty of time to right the ship.
“Right now I just want to play well and get a couple [of wins],” Johnson said. “That’s my focus. I think that’s our team’s focus. It’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of games left. We need to play better this week and defend better.”
Thursday’s game will feature a halftime performance by “Acrodunk,” America’s favorite dunk team. Tickets, starting at just $8, are available by calling (915) 747-5234
ABOUT FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Florida Atlantic is 2-6 away from Boca Raton and 1-4 in true road games, with a win over Florida Gulf Coast (92-88) and losses to USF (60-59), Texas Tech (90-54), Minnesota (95-60) and FIU. The Owls have three starters and six letterwinners back from 2016-17 in their fourth year under the direction of coach Michael Curry. A trio of seniors — center Ronald Delph (13.2 ppg/8.8 rpg/1.9 bpg) and guards Gerdarius Troutman (12.9 ppg) and Justin Massey (12.6 ppg) — are the team’s leading scorers. Delph is third in C-USA in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots, and Troutman is fourth in free throw percentage (.882) and three-pointers made per game (2.6). Delph is coming off a 17-point, nine-rebound, four-block effort against league-leading Middle Tennessee on Saturday at FAU Arena.
UTEP leads the series 5-1. The Miners are 2-1 versus the Owls in El Paso. Florida Atlantic snapped UTEP’s eight-game C-USA win streak on Feb. 13, 2014, when Marquan Botley banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 71-69 victory.
THE LAST MEETING
UTEP held Florida Atlantic to 22 second-half points, and pulled away late for a 60-55 win over the Owls on Feb. 23, 2017 in Boca Raton. The Miners outscored the Owls 28-22 in the second half. They limited FAU to 33.3 percent (9-for-27) shooting, including 1-for-13 from three-point range, over the last 20 minutes.
Gerdarius Troutman, who scored 22 points and made six threes at UTEP on Jan. 14, had one field goal in each half and was 2-for-5 from the field, 0-for-3 from distance. Justin Massey, averaging 9.1 ppg, was 1-for-4 from the floor and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc. Adonis Filer scored 13 of his game-high 15 points in the second half for the Owls. UTEP led by as many as six points in the first half, but the Owls rallied to take a 33-32 lead into the locker room.
After the teams traded baskets to open the second stanza, the Miners went on an 8-2 run and built a 42-37 lead on a jumper by Kelvin Jones with 12:56 remaining. UTEP wouldn’t trail again, although there were some anxious moments when the Owls cut a seven-point deficit down to three (58-55) on two free throws by Filer with 56 seconds left. Troutman missed a three that could’ve tied it with 19 seconds left and, following a wild scramble for the loose ball, Omega Harris missed a breakaway dunk.
But Trey Touchet secured the key offensive rebound with 11 seconds remaining, and Jake Flaggert made two big free throws with six seconds left to push the lead back to five. The Miners outrebounded the Owls 32-30 as Dominic Artis (nine rebounds) and Harris (eight) combined for 17 boards. Artis scored seven of his team-high 12 points in the last five minutes, including a crucial three-pointer with 3:51 left that gave UTEP its biggest lead (56-49). He also provided a pivotal jumper with 1:11 to go on a strong move into the lane that put the Miners in front 58-53.
Harris scored 11 points, Matt Willms 10 and Jones added a career-high 10 with two steals in 15 minutes off the bench. His minutes were huge as the reigning Conference USA Player of the Week, Paul Thomas, was limited to 16 minutes due to foul trouble. Jones made 5-of-7 shots and the UTEP bench was a combined 8-for-10 from the floor.
LA Tech ended the first half with a 9-0 run, and started the second half by making 11 of its first 12 shots. That proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs won in a shootout over the UTEP Miners, 97-88 on Saturday at the Thomas Assembly Center. During that stretch LA Tech outscored UTEP 37-20, negating a strong start and finish by the Miners.
Prior to the 9-0 run that ended the first half, the Miners led 38-33. At halftime they were down (42-38) but not out. The defensive intensity was lacking to start the second half, and before long the Bulldogs had pushed the four-point margin to double digits. For the second straight game, the Miners were torched in the second half as the Bulldogs shot 69.6 percent (16-for-23) from the field. That followed Southern Miss’ 74.1 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes two days earlier.
LA Tech led by as many as 13 points in the second half but the Miners came roaring back down the stretch. They cut an 11-point deficit (84-73) with 3:59 remaining down to five (90-85) on a three-pointer by Evan Gilyard with 1:21 to go. The Bulldogs scored the next five points, including a crucial three-pointer by Derric Jean with 22 seconds left. Jean scored a career-high tying 20 points for the Bulldogs, who were missing two starters in DaQuan Bracey and Joniah White. Jean came in averaging 9.3 points per game.
The short-handed Bulldogs also got overachieving performances from Jy’lan Washington (19 points), Amorie Archibald (15 points), Anthony Duruji (13 points) and Oliver Powell (11 points). All came in averaging 5.9 ppg or less. Archibald, Duruji and Washington’s scoring totals were career highs. The Miners’ Isiah Osborne had a career night of his own (25 points), making 7-of-11 shots, 5-of-7 threes and 6-of-7 free throws. Omega Harris added 21 points for the Miners.
CAN THEY DO IT AGAIN?
A year ago, the Miners stood 0-3 in C-USA play coming off losses at LA Tech and Southern Miss. They turned their season around by beating FIU and Florida Atlantic, both in overtime, at the Haskins Center. UTEP would go on to win 12 of its last 15 league games and tie for third place in C-USA with a 12-6 mark. This year, coming off an 0-2 road trip to Hattiesburg and Ruston and sporting a 1-3 league mark, the Miners will face the Owls and the Panthers in the DHC once more.
A GOOD MONTH
The Miners have been exceptional in Conference USA home games during the month of January, posting a 34-6 record with wins in 23 of their last 26 outings. UTEP was 3-0 in C-USA home games in January of last year, topping FIU (88-87 in double overtime), Florida Atlantic (66-65 in overtime) and UTSA (59-39).
MINERS 24-4 IN LAST 28 C-USA HOME GAMES
After splitting a couple of contests on their first C-USA homestand of the season, UTEP is 24-4 in its last 28 league games in the Haskins Center dating back to the 2014-15 season. The Miners are 80-20 all-time in C-USA home games since joining the league for the 2005-06 season.
After averaging 67.9 points per game during the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Miners are scoring at a 76.2 ppg clip in Conference USA action. UTEP has also raised its field goal percentage from .424 to .511 and its three-point percentage from .298 to .538. 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 first in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage, and second in field goal percentage and three-pointers made per game (10.5) for league games only.
SCORING ON THE ROAD
UTEP has now scored 75 points or more in six of its last seven C-USA road games dating back to the 2016-17 season. The Miners totaled 163 points on their road trip to Southern Miss and LA Tech last week, their second-most in consecutive league road games since the 2010-11 season. UTEP put 173 points on the board at FIU (84) and Florida Atlantic (89) in February of 2016.
MINERS SCORE 88, SHOOT 56.4% IN LOSS
UTEP fell 97-88 at LA Tech on Saturday. The 88 points were the most scored by the Miners in a loss since Jan. 8, 2011 at UAB (100-97 setback in three overtimes). The last time UTEP dropped a regulation game when scoring 88 or more points was on Dec. 22, 2006 at home to Jackson State (100-97).
The last time the Miners scored 88 or more in a regulation road game, but came up on the short end of the scoreboard, was on March 1, 2001 at TCU (99-91). UTEP’s .564 field goal percentage at LA Tech was its second-best of the season behind a .578 effort in the opener versus Louisiana College. It was the Miners’ top shooting effort in a C-USA game since .673 at FIU on Feb. 25, 2017. The last time UTEP shot so well but came away with a loss was on Feb. 23, 2002 at Boise State, when it made 23-of-37 shots (62.2 percent) but sustained an 81-72 defeat.
37 THREES IN THREE GAMES
For the first time in school history, the Miners have made 11 or more three-point field goals in three consecutive games. UTEP hit 12 three-pointers versus Rice, 11 at Southern Miss and 14 at LA Tech. The 14 triples versus the Bulldogs are tied for the second-top total in school history. UTEP has made 15 three-pointers in a game three times, most recently at New Mexico on Dec. 7, 2016. The Miners have shot an astounding 37-for-61 (60.7 percent) from beyond the arc over the last three contests – including 24-for-32 (75 percent) in the second half.
The Miners have shot 62.6 percent (67-for-107) from the field and 66.7 percent (28-for-42) from three-point land in the second half of their four C-USA games. In the first half, they have shot 40.5 percent (47-for-116) from the floor and 38.9 percent (14-for-36) from outside. UTEP is averaging 30.3 points in the first half in C-USA play, and 46.0 ppg in the second half.