Jake Flaggert and Trey Touchet both established career-highs for scoring, but the depleted Miners dropped a 79-67 decision to Northwestern State on Saturday night at the Haskins Center.
The Demons (3-4) made a season-high 12 three-pointers, including nine in the first half. UTEP (2-4) fell behind by 10 points early in the second half and couldn’t recover.
The Miners were playing without no. 2 scorer Omega Harris, who was suspended for missing class.
“I thought we tried,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We went into the game with five guys starting [and] if they got their averages, we had 41 points on the floor. We knew that we were going to have to get some from other places. We knew that we were going to have to really play as a group defensively and try to find some stops.”
The Miners did get some scoring from unexpected sources, with Flaggert contributing 14 points and Touchet adding 13. Dominic Artis had yet another near triple-double with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. But the Miners had difficulties closing out on the Demons’ three-point shooters as they finished 12-for-26 from beyond the arc, including 9-for-17 in the first half. Northwestern State shot 50.9 percent on the night, including a sizzling 56 percent in the second half.
“We felt going in that this was a good Northwestern State team that had played at difficult places,” Floyd said. “We knew it was going to be very difficult. We have had a week of distractions and that certainly doesn’t help things.”
Not only did the Miners play without Harris, but for the last 16 minutes they played without Matt Willms, who scored eight points on 4-of-7 shooting before leaving with a broken nose.
“I don’t know what that’s going to mean in terms of his recovery and when he will play again,” Floyd said. “It further limits us on the interior. Matt is our most effective interior scorer and that’s where we’ve always tried to play through. That’s going to make it difficult here depending on his recovery and when he’s able to come back, factored in with his foot [injury] where he hadn’t practiced.”
The Miners got off to a good start as they scored the first five points. But Northwestern State scored the next nine, all on three pointers. In fact, 15 of the Demons’ first 17 points – and 21 of their first 25 — came via the triple.
A three-pointer by Touchet right before the halftime buzzer sent the Miners to the locker room trailing 39-34. Northwestern State scored 10 of the first 14 points to start the second half and built a 49-38 lead.
The Miners cut it to six three times, the last at 59-53 on a Flaggert layup with 6:15 remaining. Northwestern State answered with six consecutive points and was in command thereafter.
UTEP finished at 42.9 percent shooting from the field and struggled mightily at the foul line (11-for-21, 52.4 percent).
“Had we made them at a higher clip, maybe we could’ve played it a little bit different down the stretch,” Floyd said. “But missed free throws are sometimes big momentum changers. You feel like you’re on a little bit of a run and they can take it the other way, much like a missed dunk can be at times.”
The Miners will play their first road game of the season at New Mexico on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports as the Miners and the Lobos, long-time rivals, will renew acquaintances for the first time in five years.