UTEP is one of the eight schools in the 12-game, bracketed in-season college basketball tournament featuring 2017 Final Four participant South Carolina (Southeastern), and post-season participants Boise State (Mountain West Conference), Illinois State (Missouri Valley), Iowa State (Big 12), Appalachian State (Sun Belt), Tulsa (American Athletic), and Western Michigan
MIAMI, FLA. – UTEP shot a season-high 67.3 percent from the field, including 72 percent in the second half, in continuing its hot streak with a 90-76 victory at FIU on Saturday night.
The Miners (13-15, 11-5 C-USA) are now 11-2 in their last 13 games. UTEP remained tied for third place in Conference USA with Old Dominion (18-10, 11-5), which will come to the Don Haskins Center to start the final, crucial homestand of the regular season on Thursday (March 2) at 6 p.m.
“I’ve always said that teams have to earn crowds,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I think we have earned it at this point. This team is playing better than last year’s team at any point right now. They are playing together, they are playing inspired, and they are playing Miner basketball. We are playing for third place Thursday night against a team that has really, really improved in the last two weeks of the season. They are scoring at a high clip, a great defensive club and it will be a real tough test for us.”
The .673 field goal percentage ranks fifth in school history, and is the team’s best since shooting 69.8 percent versus Midwestern State on Dec. 1, 1986. It’s the third-best field goal percentage by any Miner team in the modern era (since 1960). UTEP shot 69.2 percent against Wabash on Dec. 11, 1973.
The Miners also made 7-of-11 three-point shots, including 6-of-7 in the second half, and 13-of-15 free throws.
“I thought that our guard play was the best it has been all season,” Floyd said. “Dominic Artis and Omega Harris really just fed the post over and over and over again. Dominic had two shots in the first half and didn’t care. He got the game established for us, how we wanted to play. I thought Matt [Willms] and Paul [Thomas] really played off of what our guards did early and had great first halves. Our guards drove and kicked it for the next pass or shot better than they have all year.”
FIU (6-23, 2-14 C-USA) led just once, 6-4 three minutes into the game. Following a closely contested first 13 minutes, the Miners closed the half with a 16-6 run and led 41-30.
UTEP extended the lead to 16 (48-32) early in the second half on a three-pointer by Dominic Artis, but FIU got back in it with a 9-0 spurt. The lead was still seven (58-51) midway through the second half before the Miners used a 7-1 run to push their cushion back to 13.
FIU got within nine a couple of times, the last at 67-58 on a layup by Osasumwen Osaghae with 5:41 to go. But the Miners scored the next seven points to put it away.
Matt Willms led the Miners with 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting. He also had nine rebounds and three blocks. Dominic Artis scored 21 points with seven assists. Omega Harris had 19 points, and Paul Thomas added 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Trey Touchet scored in double figures for the third time in his college career (12 points) off the bench. Touchet was 3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 from three-point territory and 4-for-4 at the line.
“Trey Touchet really had a great settling effect for us off the bench,” Floyd said. “He has played with a lot of poise. I thought he stepped up and made shots in rhythm because of separation off of drives and kicks. We rebounded it exceptionally well and we took high percentage shots because the ball moved. I’m just really proud of this four-game stretch.”
FIU, which started five seniors in its final home game of the season, was led by Donte McGill who scored 18 points. The Panthers made 10-of-20 three pointers and scored 21 points off turnovers to stay competitive in stretches.
UTEP outscored FIU 48-30 in the paint and dominated the boards, 30-18.
The Miners have knocked off North Texas, Rice, Florida Atlantic and FIU on the road the last two weeks. Now they’ll get a taste of some home cooking as the season winds down, with a lot at stake. After the Old Dominion game, the Miners will host Charlotte on Saturday (March 4) at 1 p.m. for Dominic Artis’ “Senior Day.”
UTEP finished 5-4 in C-USA road games, marking the sixth time it has fashioned a winning mark away from home since joining the league in 2005. The Miners’ five-game C-USA road winning streak ties the third-longest in school history.
For tickets to the Old Dominion and Charlotte games, please call (915) 747-5234.