File Photo: Matt Willms scored 25 points vs Marshall.
HUNTINGTON, W. VA. – Matt Willms scored 25 points and Dominic Artis added 24 points and 11 rebounds, as UTEP handed Marshall its first loss at home this season, 91-68, on Saturday night at the Cam Henderson Center.
The Miners (6-16, 4-4 C-USA) got a much-needed split of their road trip while notching their first road victory of the season.
Marshall (13-9, 6-3 C-USA), which entered the game tied for second place in C-USA, fell to 11-1 at home with only its third loss in the last 24 games in Huntington.
The Herd was held 20 points below its season average. Marshall, averaging a C-USA best 10.6 three-pointers per game, shot 3-for-25 from beyond the arc. The three triples were a season low for the Herd.
“I just thought we caught them on a night, they probably looked at our record and thought we stunk, and for the most part we have this year,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought when they got it close and missed a couple of free throws it really hurt them. They had some really nice open looks that they couldn’t get down, including a missed layup, shots that Marshall normally makes.”
But give the Miners credit, they trailed only once at 2-0 and, after seeing a 15-point lead dwindle to three early in the second half, they went on a 12-0 run and were in command the rest of the way.
Willms had some road trip. After scoring 27 points at WKU on Thursday, he made 11-of-15 shots against the Herd while adding seven rebounds for the Miners, who absolutely throttled Marshall on the glass (45-29). Willms averaged 26.0 ppg for the week, made 24-of-31 shots in the two games and will be a strong contender for Conference USA Player of the Week on Monday.
Artis was 11-for-16 from the floor while collecting 11 rebounds. Omega Harris scored 13 points and Paul Thomas 11 for UTEP, which held on despite being forced to mix and match lineups in the second half with Thomas, Willms and Kelvin Jones all in foul trouble.
Jones was key off the bench with five points, five rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes, and Deon Barrett came alive at the right time, scoring seven points on perfect shooting (2-for-2 FGs, 1-for-1 3FGs, 2-for-2 FTs) in 21 minutes.
“We got a really nice floor game out of our two guards tonight, Artis and Harris,” Floyd said. “Best floor game they have had this year. They did a nice job. Kelvin Jones gave us some great minutes when Paul Thomas fouled out. We went with the two bigs during that stretch and I thought he really helped us on the defensive boards. He didn’t hurt us defensively. We worried about chasing them with those two big guys, and they were able to stay between them and the basket for the most part. He made a couple of nice feeds inside to Matt.”
Willms has gotten his conditioning in order and established himself as a dominant force in C-USA this week.
“Matt is emerging as a player. This kid has got as much talent as any big guy in the country,” Floyd said. “He has just never been able to play. He hasn’t had an offseason for four years with knee [injury], and then he had a Joel Embiid foot injury. He has never been able to lift, never been able to work out in the summer. He didn’t practice for the first two months of the year and is kind-of rounding into shape. I have been telling people he’s a great talent and he had a great weekend. He is developing into a fine young player.”
The Miners got off to a great start, jumping out to leads of 8-2, 16-6 and 22-8. Marshall trimmed it down to 10 (45-35) at halftime.
The Herd outscored UTEP 14-7 over the first five and a half minutes of the second half and cut the deficit to three (52-49) on a layup by Terrence Thompson, who scored 25 points with 10 rebounds.
UTEP’s ensuing 12-0 run featured six points from Artis, who scored 14 in the second half.
After Marshall pulled within nine (64-55) with 8:35 to go, the Miners scored five in a row to put it away.
UTEP’s 91 points were a season high. The Miners shot 60.6 percent in the first half, 57.8 percent for the game, and scored a whopping 60 points in the paint.
Marshall’s starting guard tandem of Stevie Browning, Jon Elmore and Austin Loop, averaging 48 points between them, were held to 21 combined on 4-for-24 shooting from the field and 2-for-17 from three.
“I thought that we closed pretty hard [on the three-point shooters],” Floyd said. “We just really respect their range. They put 108 [points] on us last year. It seemed like 200. And we just really respect their range and I thought we did a pretty good job of closing and getting underneath them to where those shots, they didn’t have the same rhythm maybe that they’d had in the past, although a lot of them were open. They had some open looks. They just had one of those nights from the floor I think.”
The Miners will be home for four straight games, starting on Thursday when they host defending C-USA regular season champion UAB. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. on “Jeep Jackson Tribute Night.” Fans are encouraged to wear white. UTEP will host last year’s C-USA Tournament champion and NCAA Tournament participant Middle Tennessee on Saturday at 6.