After UTEP took a 10-point lead (45-35) on a pair of Nigel Hawkins’s free throws at the 17:11 mark in the second half – its biggest lead of the game – UTSA answered with a 16-4 run and pretty much took control of the contest and coming out on top, 67-63, on Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center.
“You have to give them credit for trying to change the ball game,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “Again, though we have played against zone we had 80 minutes of zone. You do not let the zone slow you down, and in transition you still have to try and attack. At the end of the day you have to make plays. You have to shot fake, get in the gap, you have to be able to make a shot, and we knew going into the game that they would respect us in terms of shooting the basketball consistently so we weren’t surprised that they went some zone.”
The Miners (5-8, 0-2 Conference USA) took a 40-33 lead into the locker room after connecting on 50.0 percent from the field, including an 8-for-14 effort from beyond the arc. But the Roadrunners (8-7, 2-0 C-USA) used a pesky defense to slow UTEP down in the second period, outscoring their opponent, 34-23.
“Yeah, we came out and played with good effort defensively to start the ball game,” Terry said. “Again, the one glaring thing that continues to haunt our group this year is turning the ball over. We have to value taking care of the basketball. This year we have a slim margin for any type of let down in any area. Whether it be rebounding or taking care of the basketball. For whatever reason, we haven’t bought into how important it is to take care of the basketball. Every possession matters for us. We don’t have it where we can take a possession off or think it’s okay to give up a layup or not get back in transition. Games are going to come down to possession games for us, and like I said we have a slim margin of error.”
UTSA outrebounded UTEP, 41-40, while it scored 28 points off 16 turnovers from the Miners. UTEP has lost its last five games to UTSA, including Thursday night’s 75-60 victory in San Antonio.
Efe Odigie registered 16 rebounds for the second consecutive game, but missed his seventh double-double of the season after only scoring eight points. Odigie’s run of double figures to begin his career ended at 12 games – the most by any UTEP freshman.
Paul Thomas, after not scoring in the previous meeting on Jan. 3, came up with 10 points and a 3-for-6 effort from three-point range. Thomas nailed a three pointer to get the Miners within three points (66-63) with 12 seconds remaining in the ball game, but Jackson hit a free throw to put the game away.
Evan Gilyard led the Miners with 18 points, scoring 11 of those points in the first half. He struggled in the second half, shooting 2-of-8 from the field (1-5 on three’s).
Hawkins produced another nice all-around outing, scoring nine points, tallying nine rebounds and led UTEP with four assists. Hawkins also shot 3-for-3 from the charity stripe.
Kobe Magee provided a spark off the bench during the Miners’ big first half, scoring all 10 of his points in that first period. The Miners, after falling behind by five points (25-20) at the 7:34 mark after a Jhivvan Jackson jumper, went on a 16-2 run to take a 36-27 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. During the run, Magee connected on a pair of three-point buckets, while scoring contributing with eight points during the run that got the Haskins Center loud and the UTEP bench excited.
Jackson, one of C-USA’s prolific scorers, led the Roadrunners with 24 points and five assists. Jackson scored 14 points in the second half, silencing the 4,000-plus UTEP fans with big shots down the stretch. Byron Frohnen led UTSA with 13 rebounds.
Neither squad shot particularly well as UTEP connected on 39.3 percent from the field and UTSA 37.9 percent. The Miners finished with 10 treys with eight of them coming during the first half, while the Roadrunners went 7-of-22 from three-point range.
Jordan Lathon sat out with an injury for the second straight game, as six Miners played 27 or more minutes. Kaosi Ezeagu (three points, six rebounds) played 10 minutes and Gilles Dekoninck played two minutes.
UTEP will host North Texas on Jan. 10 and Rice on Jan. 12 to continue the home stand. Thursday’s contest will be streamed on ESPN+.