Bakari Copeland scored a career-high 27 points, doing his damage inside and out as Maryland-Eastern Shore knocked off UTEP, 71-66, on day one of the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Wednesday in the Haskins Center.
The Miners (2-8) lost their seventh straight and will meet UC Irvine (5-9) in the tournament consolation game on Thursday at 5 p.m.
UTEP outshot UMES (2-11) 41.8 percent to 37.5 percent, and outrebounded the Hawks 44-31. But the Miners couldn’t overcome 3-for-17 shooting from three-point territory, and UTEP finished with 14 turnovers to UMES’ six.
Copeland made 7-of-13 shots, 4-of-6 three pointers and 9-of-11 free throws while adding seven rebounds for UMES, which won its first road game of the season. UTEP has lost five in a row at home.
Dontae Caldwell added 13 points for the Hawks, and Ryan Andino scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
“I thought the Copeland kid did a really good job,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Caldwell did a nice job. We did a pretty good job on Andino, their second-leading scorer. At the start of the second half, he knocked down a couple of big baskets and kind of got his head up a little bit.”
The Miners finished the game minus three frontcourt players – Jake Flaggert, Paul Thomas and Matt Willms – who all fouled out. Flaggert posted a career-high nine rebounds. Thomas had the best game of his UTEP career with 13 points, five boards and two blocks. Willms was also effective inside with 16 points and seven rebounds.
“Foul trouble really bothered us tonight, Matt not being in there,” Floyd said. “It was encouraging that we kind of got him back for a little bit, just a portion of his talent. But it was nice to see him be able to make some goals, make some shots. I thought Paul also played better. We have not really gotten any inside play at all.”
Dominic Artis registered his second straight double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Omega Harris scored 12 points. Artis and Deon Barrett were a combined 1-for-10 from beyond the arc.
“Tonight offensively on the perimeter, we struggled,” Floyd said. “We had open look after open look after open look. And in the final eight minutes of the ballgame, wide open threes that did not go down. When we drove it, we didn’t finish. We came out there late with four little guards because we don’t have a lot of depth inside. We were just really kind of short-handed down the stretch.”
The Miners trailed for most of the first half. When Thomas converted a three-point play with 9:19 remaining, UTEP had its first lead (49-48) since it was 11-10. After that, there were eight ties and 12 lead changes down the stretch.
UTEP was up 61-60 with under three minutes to play following two foul shots by Trey Touchet. UMES scored the next five points – a three-pointer by Copeland and dunk by Derrico Peck. Touchet cut it to two (65-63) on a driving layup with 56 seconds left. Again the Hawks had the answer, as Thomas Rivera scored a layup and Logan McIntosh cashed in with two foul shots.
There were plenty of encouraging signs in defeat. The Miners’ defense was significantly better, they controlled the glass and received several fine individual performances.
“[Paul Thomas] played better and so did Matt,” Floyd said. “That’s a great step forward for our team because we have really been completely void of any interior scoring. We just have not had any since Matt’s 22-point game against Western Michigan and another nice game [versus Mississippi State]. At one point he was averaging 16 [points per game]. But after the broken nose he just kind of deteriorated on us and it was all about not practicing, not being out there.”
The Miners were 1-for-10 from three-point range in the second half.
“We had multiple opportunities on the offensive end. When you’re struggling, it seems like it’s something different every night and tonight it was a lack of shot making,” Floyd said. “Our three-point field goal percentage was not good. We didn’t take as many; we took 31 in the last game. I thought that was a real positive. We got to the foul line more, we defended the three-point line better, we defended the interior better than what we have done in the past. We won the battle of the boards. But then you look at the stat sheet and we turned it over multiple times and then we don’t really have an interior stopper right now and Copeland just wore us out, just made basket after basket.”
Irvine, last year’s Sun Bowl tourney champion, lost to Akron, 88-80, in the first game of the evening.
“We’ll regroup, we’ll try to come out tomorrow and keep our heads up and play against a good Irvine team that really had [NM State] beat the other night for 38 minutes,” Floyd said. “They took them to overtime in Las Cruces, so we know that’s going to be another extreme challenge for us.”