Souley Boum tied a career high with 26 points, while draining a collegiate career-best 14 free throws on 14 attempts, and Bryson Williams tallied 20 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the line as UTEP won its first Conference USA game, defeating Southern Miss, 76-64, in the Haskins Center Thursday night.
“We knew it was going to be a competitive game tonight, both teams were desperate for a win in conference play,” second-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said, who returned to the bench after missing the last two games.
“We knew we’d get a team in Southern Miss that’s well coached and that was going to come in here with guys who can score the basketball. We were going to have to do a great job defending and we did that in the second half. We knew we’d have to grind it out and continue to build the team moving forward.”
The Miners (10-6, 1-2 C-USA) are 9-0 in the Haskins Center for the first time since the 1988-89 season. The nine wins at home surpassed last season’s total of eight after shooting 91.9 percent (34-37) from the free-throw line.
UTEP sunk 34 free throws, the most made since hitting 33 against Loyola on Nov. 14, 2015.
The Golden Eagles (4-12, 0-3 C-USA) entered Thursday’s game averaging 5.0 three-pointers per game. USM kept the contest close by make four in the first half and shooting 40.0 percent from the field overall. That number dropped as Southern Miss shot 33.3 percent in the second half, while going 2-for-7 from three-point range.
Kaden Archie made his second consecutive start and chipped in with nine points, three rebounds and an assist and steal, while Eric Vila, Nigel Hawkins and Daryl Edwards each scored six points. Vila led way with 11 rebounds, matching his season high, while recording a season-high three offensive boards. Hawkins led the squad with four assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Hawkins (4-5) and Vila (4-6) went a combined 8-of-11 from the line.
The Miners came out of the locker room up two points and Hawkins put his team up 32-28 on an impressive reverse layup. However, Southern Miss wouldn’t go away as it took a 42-38 lead at the 14:47 mark. Boum was fouled on the following play attempting a trey and got the Miners within a point after draining all three free-throws.
But USM took a three-point advantage after Gabe Watson made a pair of free throws. After Watson later followed with a jumper that put USM a point (52-51), the Miners answered with stingy defense and never looked back after a 12-1 run.
“We’re trying to get back to being a team that takes pride in stopping your man by guarding hard,” Terry said. “Tonight, when we had runs, we had guys defending really hard that led to those great runs. We try to play to our strength and get easy baskets in transition.”
Hawkins started the run with a pair a made free throws, while Boum nailed his second trey of the game that put the Miners up four points (56-52) at the 6:46 mark. Leonard Harper-Baker made a free throw that stopped the run, but Williams went to score the next seven points that gave the Miners a 63-53 lead with four over four minutes remaining in the contest.
Deon Stroud, who’s been seeing more playing time, score three points on an and-1. Stroud took the ball to the hole and threw an emphatic dunk on David McCoy, while drawing the foul in the process late in the first half.
Watson led USM with 20 points, while Harper-Baker chipped in with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds. LaDavius Darine tallied 13 points.
UTEP went 13-for-13 from the line in the first half, but struggled from the field, shooting only 38.1 percent (8-21) and 10.0 percent (1-10) from beyond the arc. The Miners shot over 42 percent in the second period, and finished 19-47 (40.4 percent) from the field overall.
The Miners’ bench outscored USM’s, 35-10. UTEP also hit the boards hard, outrebounding Southern Miss, 39-31.
UTEP’s home stand will continue on Saturday as it hosts LA Tech (11-4, 2-1 C-USA). The Bulldogs fell at UTSA (7-9, 1-2) on Thursday night as Jhivvan Jackson went off for 37 points. The Miners will play the Roadrunners in back-to-back contests, the first on Wednesday, Jan. 15 in the Haskins Center and at San Antonio on Jan. 18.
Gallery by Johnny Yturales – El Paso Herald Post