FILE: Evan Gilyard (3) scored 15 of his career-high tying 20 points in the second half and Omega Harris (2) eight for the Miners.
Evan Gilyard scored 15 of his career-high tying 20 points in the second half, but UTEP couldn’t quite complete the comeback and dropped a 74-65 decision to Marshall in the Haskins Center on Saturday.
UTEP (7-16, 2-9 C-USA) trailed 34-24 following a sluggish first half. The Miners got as close as two in the final minutes before the Herd (15-8, 6-4 C-USA) finished them off late.
“I give our guys credit. We really fought hard to get back and get it cut to [two],” UTEP Interim Coach Phil Johnson said. “We had a really poor start, and the effort and energy was not what it needed to be. So we addressed that at halftime. I thought we came out and played a lot harder and tougher in the second half.”
Johnson was pleased with the Miners’ defensive effort as they held the nation’s no. 8 scoring offense 12 points below its season average. But once again, turnovers reared their ugly head and the 17 giveaways foiled UTEP’s chances at the upset.
“We had way too many turnovers,” Johnson said. “Man, I thought we were going to be a good ball security team and we have taken a big step back in that area over the last couple of games. Wild plays and turnovers really was the game because when we cut it to three, we were right there. I thought we were right there to go take them out, and we couldn’t quite do it.”
The Miners shot 34.5 percent in the first half and made just 2-of-12 three-pointers in falling behind by double digits. UTEP heated up to 46.7 percent shooting in the second half. An 11-4 run trimmed a 36-26 deficit down to 40-37 five minutes into the half. Later, the Miners were down 42-39, 51-48 and 56-53. They finally got it under three when Gilyard drained a three-pointer with 4:04 to go. That made it 61-59.
Darius George answered with a three-point play for Marshall. Gilyard split two foul shots, and it was 64-60 with 2:40 to play. A defensive breakdown left the Herd’s leading scorer, Jon Elmore, wide open and he nailed a huge three for a 67-60 advantage with 2:21 on the clock. The Miners couldn’t recover.
Elmore scored 22 points, C.J. Burks 16 and Adjin Penava 15 for the Herd.
“They put up some tremendous numbers,” Johnson said. “Really, the 74 [points allowed] is a little deceiving because we fouled late. And really, if we didn’t have to foul late it would’ve been in the 60’s. And so I take some pride in that, that a team capable of scoring 130, we hold to the 60’s. And 40 percent [shooting] for that team, and 28 [percent] from three when they shoot 35 [shots] and that’s what they do, that part’s decent. I thought we challenged most of their shots and again, we fought back and the guys tried.”
It was a reversal of fortunes for a UTEP team that has lost four C-USA games when leading at halftime. This time the Miners played well in the second half, but couldn’t overcome a rough start.
“It was really a poor start,” Johnson said. “And the effort was really disappointing, and I made that clear at halftime. I want to be positive with the guys and they responded at half and came out and fought hard. And for the first time in a while, we’ve seen the second half so-called meltdowns, and that really wasn’t the case tonight. It was the first half. And so we did some good things in the second half but it really was the turnovers and the critical mistakes, and we saw that the other night too [against WKU].”
Trey Wade scored nine points, Keith Frazier eight and Omega Harris eight for the Miners. Paul Thomas’ seven rebounds steered UTEP to a 37-37 deadlock on the boards.
It was another closely contested C-USA game – the Miners have been involved in several this season – but in the end, a hard-fought loss.
UTEP will wrap up a three-game homestand next Saturday against UTSA at 7 p.m., looking for a spark that could turn around a challenging season.
“We’ve got some games coming up that we really need to take care of,” Johnson said.