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Tuesday , April 24 2018
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Turnovers Take Toll as Western Kentucky Tops UTEP 72-60

UTEP committed 12 of its 16 turnovers in the second half, with many coming in critical situations down the stretch as WKU escaped the Haskins Center with a 72-60 victory on Thursday.

The Miners (7-15, 2-8 C-USA), opening a three-game homestand, hung with the Hilltoppers (16-6, 8-1 C-USA) throughout. But they coughed up the basketball six times in the last six minutes, including five times over the final 3:35, and that proved to be too much to overcome.

“Their 1-3-1 [zone defense] bothered us,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “I thought we were really prepared for it and worked a lot against it, and I thought we’d make them pay. I really thought we’d go score and not turn it over and we had some critical turnovers. You can’t win with 16 turnovers. We did some good things for about 32 minutes, and unfortunately it’s a 40-minute game.”

UTEP was ahead 32-30 at halftime and took its biggest lead, 42-38, on a three-point play by Omega Harris with 16:35 remaining. WKU responded with a 13-2 run to seize a 51-44 advantage with 12:01 to go on a layup by Lamonte Bearden.

The Miners scored the next nine points, and took their last lead (53-51) on Harris’ jumper with 8:46 to go. The Hilltoppers once again had the answer, reeling off eight unanswered to build a 59-53 cushion on a three-pointer by Justin Johnson with 7:35 to go.

UTEP got within four (64-60) on a free throw by Evan Gilyard with 1:32 remaining, but WKU pitched a shutout the rest of the way and finished it off with dunks by Johnson and Dwight Coleby, and free throws by Bearden.

At one point, the Miners turned it over on three consecutive possessions in a five-point game (62-57) with about five minutes remaining.

“We went through about three weeks averaging seven or eight turnovers, and we got back to getting reckless,” Johnson said.

Four WKU starters scored in double figures, as Johnson led the way with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Harris scored 16 points and Paul Thomas added 10 for the Miners.

WKU shot 50 percent and scored 42 points, including 11 off turnovers, in the second half.

“I’m really disappointed,” Johnson said. “At halftime I really felt like we would go win the game. I felt like they weren’t defending hard enough and I thought we could go score. But we just kind of self-destructed. And I don’t think it’s so much what they did, it’s self-imposed mistakes.”

The Miners will be right back at it on Saturday when they host Marshall at 7 p.m.

Gallery by Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post

Miners Hope Home Cooking Will Spur C-USA Turnaround

The UTEP men’s basketball team stands 2-7 midway through its Conference USA schedule.  The good news is that there is precedent for a turnaround.

In each of the last three seasons since going to an 18-game league slate, UTEP has posted a 7-2 mark over its final nine conference games.  During that stretch the Miners have gone 14-13 in the first half, and 21-6 in the second half.

So it’s entirely possible that the Miners can change their fortunes over the next month.  They’ll have five of their final nine C-USA games at home, starting this weekend when they’ll entertain two of the top teams in the league – WKU on Thursday at 8, and Marshall on Saturday at 7.

WKU is 7-1 in C-USA, a half-game behind front-running Middle Tennessee and tied with Old Dominion for second place.  The Hilltoppers have a returning second team All-Conference player (Justin Johnson) and a quartet of newcomers – grad transfers Dwight Coleby (Kansas) and Darius Thompson (Virginia), junior Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo transfer) and freshman Taveion Hollingsworth – who combine to average 51.8 points per game.  WKU ranks 19th nationally in field goal percentage (.495).

The Hilltoppers are second in C-USA in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage (.383), and third in scoring margin (+8.8 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.420).

“They’re going to be very similar to what we saw with Middle Tennessee in the fact that they’re big and they’re very physical,” UTEP Interim Coach Phil Johnson said.  “In fact, they’re probably the most talented team in our league, and that includes Middle Tennessee.  They play a lot different than Middle Tennessee but those two big guys [Johnson and Coleby] are outstanding.  We’ve got to get tougher and get physical real fast.”

The Miners have been competitive in eight of their nine league games, but the absence of Willms proved to be too much to overcome at Middle Tennessee on Saturday.  UTEP was outscored 34-16 in the paint and outrebounded 42-26.  The Blue Raiders shot 58.1 percent in the second half and scored 51 points, continuing a disturbing trend in C-USA play.  In the first half, UTEP opponents have averaged 32 points.  In the second half, they have averaged 43.4 points while shooting 52.9 percent (138-for-261) from the field.

“We’ve got to clamp down.  We’ve got to be better defensively on the road,” Johnson said.  “We’re still learning how to play on the road.  A lot of it is toughness, a lot of it is commitment to defending every possession.  We have shown signs here and there for 14 minutes to 20 minutes, but not 40.”

In five league games (Southern Miss, LA Tech, FIU, UAB, Middle Tennessee), opponents shot 58 percent or better in the second half.  Four of those games were away from El Paso.

“We’re not a real vocal team and as I’ve said many times, we have been pretty decent defensively in the first half up until the Middle Tennessee game,” Johnson said.  “Second half, not as good.  Some of that is talking, some of that is having young guys and not being able to talk.  Every team in the country has that issue.  Some address it and some get better at it and some don’t.  We’ll continue to fight and get better.”

The Miners are hoping to have Willms back this weekend.  Tirus Smith is continuing his rehab from a knee injury but likely won’t return until next week, at the earliest.

UTEP has gotten solid play from freshmen Trey Wade (36 points in the last two games) and Evan Gilyard (70 points in the last five games) of late.  Another freshman, Kobe Magee, leads C-USA in three-point field goal percentage (.630) for conference games only.

Sophomore Isiah Osborne is averaging a team-high 13.6 ppg in league action, but struggled on the road trip (2-for-20 from the field) while he was under the weather.  The Miners will need all hands on deck for the last nine conference games, and a three-game homestand is a good place to start.

“[We need to] practice better, and hopefully get healthy too,” Johnson said.  “We need Matt Willms back.  We just got punished inside at Middle Tennessee, really at UAB as well.  Our guys fought pretty hard.  Jake Flaggert was guarding a 6-11 kid at Middle Tennessee.  We had Trey Touchet guarding a 6-8, 250 [player].  Those are all issues.  But they’re not excuses, it’s just a fact.  We need Matt to get healthy and we need to defend better.  We’re taking too many threes.  We’re going to clean that up.”

Thursday marks the Miners’ annual “Noche Latina” game as UTEP will celebrate the Hispanic culture.  Tickets, starting at just $8, are available by calling 747-5234.

UTEP Dumps North Texas 50-48 Sunday Afternoon

DENTON, Tx- UTEP won the boards (34-28) and held North Texas to 35.4 percent (17-48) shooting to grind out a 50-48 road win Sunday afternoon.

The Miners (13-7, 4-3 C-USA) led for nearly 32 minutes of action, got enough stops down the stretch and hit shots in key moments to secure the hard-fought win against the Mean Green (11-9, 2-6 C-USA).

Katarina Zec tallied 11 points in the game, including nailing the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:34 left in regulation. The shot put UTEP up, 48-46, while also wiping away the only second-half lead by North Texas. The margin was one (49-48) when Terriell Bradley, who poured in a game-high 22 points, misfired on a driving jumper in the waning seconds.

Jordan Alexander, who tallied eight points to go along with a career-high 13 rebounds, secured the board and was fouled. She split the pair with 0.5 seconds left. North Texas called timeout to advance the ball but its in-bound pass hit the rim and time expired.

Tamara Seda (13 points), Zec and Howell (10 points, seven rebounds) joined forces with Alexander to provide the bulk of the offense.

After shooting 57.9 percent (11-19) in the opening half to surge out to a 34-25 lead at the break, the Miners finished 3-20 (15.0 percent) over the final 20 minutes. UTEP compensated for that by nailing 7-10 at the free-throw line in the half, which put them at 16-22 (72.7 percent) for the contest. Conversely the Mean Green were just 10-18 on charity stripe tosses.

“It went down to the wire and I’m just really impressed with our team’s resiliency one more time,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “They just kept getting rebound after rebound. I was really pleased with our defense. We were trying to hold them under 50-that was our goal-and we kept them to 48. I like the way our team is guarding.”

The two sides traded scores early in the contest, with the Mean Green holding a 10-7 advantage with 4:42 to play in the opening frame. Alexander drilled a straight away 3-pointer to tie the tilt, which was followed by a pair of free throws from Zuzanna Puc to make it a mini 5-0 run. The effort gave the Miners their first lead (12-10) of the game. After UNT tied the tilt UTEP scored five of the next six points in the frame before a late Mean Green free throw made it 17-14 through 10 minutes of action.

The Mean Green clawed within two (18-16) within the first minute of the second quarter before the Orange and Blue started to come alive. They ripped off seven straight points, with Howell providing five of them, to vault out to a nine-point cushion (25-16) with 7:37 to play in the half. It was back-and-forth for the remainder of the period, allowing UTEP to maintain a nine-point advantage (34-25) heading to halftime.

UNT had a quick start to the third quarter, tallying six consecutive points to trim the Miner margin to three (34-31) with 8:27 to play in the period. Zec put an end to that by draining a 3-pointer from the top of the circle. After UTEP got a stop, Jordan Jenkins knocked down a triple of her own to reestablish UTEP’s nine-point halftime lead (40-31).

The Mean Green didn’t wither away, but instead went on a 10-2 run over the next seven minutes to cut UTEP’s lead to one (42-41). Seda sunk a pair of free throws with five seconds left to put the Orange and Blue up by three (44-41) following three quarters of action.

Both teams locked things up defensively in the fourth quarter, with the two squads combining for three points over the first six minutes of action in the frame. The result was the Miners clinging to a 45-43 lead with 3:26 remaining in regulation before the Mean Green’s Brittany Smith nailed a triple. UTEP didn’t flinch, as on the ensuing possession Zec buried a trey to put the Miners back on top by two (48-46) with 2:34 left.

UTEP got a free throw by Seda to extend its edge to three and then got three stops on the final four possessions by North Texas. The lone basket in the stretch was by Bradley with 21 seconds to play to cut the lead to one but UTEP dug deep and held one.

The Orange and Blue will return home to challenge co-league leader UAB at 7 p.m. MST Friday. The game will be streamed live on the beIN Sports app, and a TV tape-delay airing will take place after men’s hoops programming that evening.

It will also be broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso with Steve Kaplowitz and Traci Miller on the call.

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Middle Tennessee Tops Miners 81-50

MURFREESBORO, TN. – After scoring 75 points or more in three of their first four Conference USA road games, the UTEP Miners hit a wall on Saturday at Middle Tennessee and dropped an 81-50 decision to the Blue Raiders.

UTEP (7-14, 2-7 C-USA) was held to 17 points, its fewest in a half this season, over the opening 20 minutes. The Miners made 6-of-27 shots (22.2 percent) and 3-of-15 three-pointers (20 percent) in the first half. Fortunately league-leading Middle Tennessee (16-5, 8-1 C-USA) wasn’t much better offensively during that juncture and took only a 13-point lead (30-17) into the break.

The second half, however, was a different story, as the Blue Raiders heated up and the Miners couldn’t keep pace. Middle Tennessee shot 58.1 percent in the second half and outscored UTEP 51-33.

With Matt Willms sidelined due to a foot problem, Tirus Smith still out with a knee injury, and Paul Thomas picking up four fouls in the first half, the Miners didn’t stand a chance inside. Middle Tennessee outscored UTEP 34-16 in the paint and had a 13-4 edge in second-chance points behind a 42-26 rebound margin.

“It’s difficult without any of our big guys, and Paul was in foul trouble so you’ve got Jake [Flaggert] at the five and Trey Wade, who’s not a five, defending a seven footer. That’s very difficult,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “But other than that, I want to just go play hard and compete. We have been doing that for the most part and tonight we had a letdown in that area. It’s just one of those nights where nothing was good. We didn’t guard anybody and we didn’t get to the basket until late. We shot way too many threes in the first half. We were just poor tonight against a real good basketball team.”

The Miners, who never led, fell behind 7-0 early. They pulled within four (10-6) on a three-pointer by Omega Harris with 15:10 remaining in the half. Middle Tennessee went on another 7-0 run to go in front 17-6. Beginning with the 9:12 mark of the first half, the Blue Raiders maintained a double-digit lead.

It was a 15-point cushion (40-25) in the opening minutes of the second half before Middle Tennessee strung together seven consecutive points once again. That made it 47-25 and the Blue Raiders led by as many as 36 points the rest of the way.

“We told the guys [at halftime], we played so poorly and we’re down 13,” Johnson said. “We felt like we were in the game and just three or four stops and you get it down to six or four and you’re right there. Man, they’re good. They shoot it, they drive, they’re big and they throw it in the post. We just didn’t have an answer. We just couldn’t stop them.”

Trey Wade led UTEP with 14 points and nine rebounds, and Evan Gilyard scored all 13 of his points in the second half while adding three steals. The Miners shot 33.3 percent and went 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) from downtown.

Brandon Walters led Middle Tennessee with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Blue Raiders didn’t need a big night from Nick King, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, or Giddy Potts, who scored seven. Karl Gamble accounted for 12 of Middle Tennessee’s 36 bench points.

UTEP has reached the midway point of the C-USA schedule and has road trips to Middle Tennessee, UAB and LA Tech in its rear view mirror. Five of the final nine league games will be played in the friendly confines of the Don Haskins Center.

The Miners will return to El Paso for three consecutive C-USA contests. UTEP will host WKU on Thursday (Feb. 1) in the “Noche Latina” game at 8 p.m., Marshall on Saturday (Feb. 3) at 7 p.m., and UTSA on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. before hitting the road once again.

“We’ll be happy [to be home],” Johnson said. “I hope the fans will come out and hang in there with us and watch us. We’re going to obviously try to give a better effort than we gave tonight.”

Rice Bombs Miners with 3’s En Route to 56-42 Win

HOUSTON – UTEP held Rice to its second-lowest scoring output of the season but couldn’t generate enough offense in a 56-42 road setback Friday evening.

The Owls (15-3, 5-1 C-USA) rode a barrage of 3-pointers (12-27) to fuel their offensive effort against the Miners (12-7, 3-3 C-USA). At the other end of the court the Orange and Blue connected on 31.5 percent (17-54) from the floor, including 3-13 (23.1 percent) from distance. Rebounding also went in favor of the home side, 37-32.

UTEP tried to compensate for that by committing a season-low 10 turnovers and holding a 22-14 advantage for points in the paint but it wasn’t enough to make up for the off shooting night. Tamara Seda led the way for the Miners with 13 points, which tied as the most by any player on the court, while Jordan Alexander pitched in nine points.

Erica Ogwumike led the way for the Owls with a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds). She was joined in double figures by Nicole Iademarco (13 points) and Wendy Knight (11 points).

“We played some of the best defense that we’ve played all year,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I thought we guarded to a plan. The issue was for us tonight was that we couldn’t throw it in the ocean. We’ve got to figure out a way to get better offensively and quickly because we’ve got a game Sunday. Anytime this team is willing to guard like that we’re going to have a chance to win.”

The Miners led 2-0 three minutes into the contest before the Owls started to find their rhythm by tallying 11 straight points. The surge forced Baker to call timeout. Seda stopped the sequence and a nearly four-minute scoring drought with an offensive putback. The deficit remained at nine (15-6) with 1:13 to play in the period but the Miners accounted for the final four points in the frame to trim the margin to five (15-10) through 10 minutes of action.

The Owls knocked down a three to start the second quarter before lay-ups from Seda and Zuzanna Puc brought the Orange and Blue to within four (18-14) with 7:31 to play in the half. The score stayed that way for almost the next four minutes but the Owls hit three triples in the span of 59 seconds to extend their advantage to 13 (27-14) with 2:58 remaining in the stanza. Seda split a pair of free throws to account for the first points by the Miners in more than five minutes. Rice answered with a lay-up in the waning seconds to carry a 14-point cushion (29-15) into the locker room.

Rice struck first in the third quarter with a lay-up to go up by 16 (31-15) before a mini 4-0 Miner run made it a 12-point contest (31-19) with 7:11 to play in the frame. The home side nipped it in the bud with 12 consecutive points, including the first seven by Iademarco, to lead 43-19 with 2:27 left in regulation. Roeshonda Patterson made a driving lay-up in traffic to stop the surge but the damage was substantial.

The Miners hit back-to-back triples to begin the fourth quarter on a high note and reduce the once 25-point disadvantage to 15 (46-31) with 8:38 left in regulation. After Rice knocked down a 3-pointer of its own Seda grabbed an offensive rebound and banked a lay-up off the glass to make it 49-33.

Five straight points by the Owls, though, stopped the surge and essentially wiped out any remaining chances of a comeback. The Miners continued to play hard down the stretch but there was too much ground to make up.

UTEP will wrap up the mini two-game roadswing at North Texas at 2 p.m. MST/3 p.m. CST Sunday. Duke Keith will have the call on 600 ESPN El Paso. The contest will also be live streamed on CUSA.tv (subscription required).

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UTEP Freshmen Shine, Blazers Still Beat Miners 85-78

BIRMINGHAM, AL. – Freshmen Trey Wade, Evan Gilyard and Kobe Magee combined for 47 points on 17-for-25 shooting, but UTEP couldn’t get near enough defensive stops in an 85-78 loss at UAB on Thursday night.

The Blazers (14-7, 5-3 C-USA) shot 55.2 percent from the field, including 60.7 percent in the second half in keeping the Miners (7-13, 2-6 C-USA) winless on the road in 2017-18.

UTEP has now scored 75 points or more in three of its four C-USA road games, but come up short every time as their opponents (Southern Miss, LA Tech, UAB) scored 85, 97 and 85.

“We didn’t defend like you have to defend on the road,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “Our guys are still learning that. A lot of the new guys especially, and even some of the old guys. We gave up too many points and the percentage was too high. We were changing defenses and really none of them were very good.”

Still, the Miners were only down five (67-62) to the heavily favored Blazers when Paul Thomas scored with 7:43 remaining. And it was a seven-point game (72-65) around the five-minute mark before UAB pulled away.

“We didn’t lay down, we kept fighting to come back and we made a little run there [late],” Johnson said. “I felt like we were in the game, really, with three minutes to go and just couldn’t score and get stops. We were poor defensively and we worked so much on that. I didn’t think we fought hard enough defensively. But that said, they’re really good. They’ve got a lot of weapons in the low post. They brought a bench guy in, [Lewis] Sullivan, that just crushed us.”

Sullivan tallied 19 points in 20 reserve minutes, making 7-of-8 shots. He was one of six Blazers in double figures as Nate Darling scored 17, Chris Cokley 15, Zack Bryant 12, William Lee 10 and Jalen Perry 10. Lee became UAB’s all-time leading shot blocker (267) with two on the night.

Hot shooting from three-point range, particularly early in the game, kept the Miners within striking distance at halftime. UTEP went 6-for-14 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.

Wade and Magee each made two threes as the Miners bolted to a 19-12 lead in the first nine minutes. UAB went on a 10-2 run to take its first lead of the game, 22-21 on a three-point play by Cokley. The next few minutes were back and forth, and the Miners took their final lead of 32-31 on an offensive rebound and dunk by Matt Willms with 4:23 on the clock. The Blazers ended the half with a 10-4 spurt and took a 41-36 edge to the locker room.

In the first half, UTEP’s bench produced 15 points as Evan Gilyard, Trey Touchet and Willms were a combined 6-for-7 from the field.

UAB opened the second half with a 11-2 run to surge ahead 52-38. An 8-0 run got the Miners within five (65-60) on a three-point play by Wade with 9:13 to go. About five minutes later, UAB put the game out of reach with eight unanswered points after Willms’ layup made it 74-67 with 4:46 to play.

There were plenty of positives for UTEP. Besides the freshmen contributions, the Miners hung with the Blazers – the no. 1 rebounding team in C-USA – on the boards (35-31) and committed only seven turnovers.

“I’m pleased with that part, I really am,” Johnson said. “Half of our shots were threes and that’s not good. We took good care of the ball against all of the presses that they threw at us. We’ve got to get to the free throw line a little bit more. But we did some good things tonight against a really good team, probably the most talented team in our league, and really gave ourselves a chance to win without playing our best basketball.”

Wade scored a game-high 22 points with three steals. Gilyard added 14 points and Magee 11.

“I thought all three of those guys gave us a really good lift,” Johnson said. “As a team, we’ve got to defend the ball better and the low post better.”

The Miners attempted 62 shots, a season-high 33 from long range.

The Miners will challenge defending Conference USA champion Middle Tennessee on Saturday at 5 p.m. MT in Murfreesboro. The game will be streamed on Facebook by Stadium.

HP Sports In Depth: UTEP Set to Tackle Demanding C-USA Road Double

Over the next two weeks, the UTEP men’s basketball team will face four teams currently ranked in the top-five of the Conference USA standings.  It all starts on Thursday when the Miners meet UAB in Birmingham.

UAB is 13-7 overall, 4-3 in C-USA and 10-1 at Bartow Arena.  The Blazers are two games behind front-running Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee and WKU, who are all 6-1 in league play.  Marshall stands a game back at 5-2.

The Miners will play at defending C-USA champ Middle Tennessee on Saturday, then host WKU and Marshall next week.

“No question, it’s a tough stretch going to UAB and Middle,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said.  “They are probably two of the most talented teams in our league and I think they are two teams that, if given the opportunity to go to the postseason, could really do some damage.  They are both experienced, they’re big, they’re talented, and they really have no weaknesses.

“We’re focused on UAB right now.  I thought we had a good practice this morning.  We’re all disappointed in a couple of games that we let slip away, but guys keep fighting and that’s all I ask.  Every day, every game, every possession, every trip, give it your best effort.”

The Blazers have regained their swagger in 2017-18 with the return of junior guard Nick Norton, who missed all but the first game of last season after sustaining a torn ACL.  UAB’s floor general is averaging 8.1 points and a team-high 4.6 assists this season.  He is shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the three-point line, and 82.6 percent from the charity stripe.

“Norton is a key cog,” Johnson said.  “You saw how they missed him a year ago.  They missed that engine, that guy finding the open guy and then if you back off of him, he’s a tremendous threat from the three-point line.  I think he might be their most valuable player, even though they have [Chris] Cokley who is a league MVP candidate.  Norton is awfully good and really dangerous.  A lot of people are doubling Cokley and Norton is left open, and that’s an issue too.”

Cokley has put together a banner senior year, averaging 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds with a .586 field goal percentage and .843 free throw percentage.  Freshman guard Zack Bryant has been an impact newcomer, collecting 13.5 ppg and 3.2 apg.  Sophomore guard Nate Darling chips in with 10.7 ppg.  Senior forward William Lee continues to be the enforcer inside with 2.0 blocks per contest.

The Blazers are first in C-USA in scoring margin (+11.4 ppg), and rebounding margin (+8.3 rpg).   They are second in field goal percentage (.494), field goal percentage defense (.411), free throw percentage (.756), three-point field goal percentage defense (.329) and assists (17.5 apg).  The Blazers are ninth in the country in rebounding, 20th in field goal percentage and 22nd in assists per game.

Winning at UAB is a tall order for any team, let alone a UTEP squad that could be short-handed once again if Matt Willms is unable to go.  The 7’1” Canadian made the trip, but is still being evaluated after coming up hobbling 10 minutes into Saturday’s 65-61 loss at UTSA.

The Miners are hoping for a breakthrough on the road sooner than later after dropping their first four away contests of the season.

“It’s affecting all of us,” Johnson said.  “But I’ll tell you this, the first trip to Southern Miss and LA Tech, it was really our first experience on the road and we did not play well.  We did not play hard enough.  I was actually pleased with our competitive spirit at San Antonio.  I thought we fought particularly in the second half, where we have shown signs of being poor defensively.  So in that aspect, I was actually happy.  We’re all upset about the loss, and I just go back and look at a couple of possessions here and there that could’ve changed the outcome.  But at the end of the day, we did continue to fight until the last second.”

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. MT.  beIN Sports will have coverage.  Fans in the El Paso market can watch the game online at connect.beinsports.com/us, or on DIRECTV (channel 620), Spectrum (channel 417), Dish Network (channel 392), Xfinity Comcast (channel 268) and AT&T (channel 662/1662).

***IN DEPTH

ABOUT UAB
The Blazers’ junior guard Nick Norton, who missed all but the first game of last season after sustaining a torn ACL, returns for the UTEP game.  UAB’s floor general is averaging 8.1 points and a team-high 4.6 assists this season.  He is shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the three-point line, and 82.6 percent from the charity stripe.

Forward Chris Cokley has put together a banner senior year, averaging 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds with a .586 field goal percentage and .843 free throw percentage.  A year ago, Cokley averaged 12.1 ppg and 6.0 rpg.  Freshman guard Zack Bryant has been an impact newcomer, collecting 13.5 ppg and 3.2 apg.

The native of Hastings, Fl. is shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from outside and 73.4 percent from the line.  Sophomore guard Nate Darling chips in with 10.7 ppg, a .481 field goal percentage, .379 three-point percentage and .824 free throw percentage.  Senior forward William Lee continues to be the enforcer inside with 2.0 blocks per contest.

The Blazers are first in C-USA in scoring margin (+11.4 ppg), and rebounding margin (+8.3 rpg).   They are second in field goal percentage (.494), field goal percentage defense (.411), free throw percentage (.756), three-point field goal percentage defense (.329) and assists (17.5 apg).  They are third in scoring offense (78.9 ppg),  scoring defense (67.5 ppg), three-point field goal percentage (.368) and assist/turnover ratio (1.4).

Cokley is first in C-USA in rebounding.  The Blazers are ninth in the country in rebounding (through games of Jan. 21), 20th in field goal percentage and 22nd in assists per game.  Cokley rates 20th nationally in double-doubles with nine.  UAB is 10-1 at home this season with the lone loss coming to Middle Tennessee, 63-60, on Dec. 30.

SERIES HISTORY
The series is deadlocked 9-9.  Of the 17 games the teams have played as C-USA members, 14 have been decided by nine points or less.  Three of the last nine meetings have gone to overtime and five of the last eight have been determined by three points or fewer.  The Miners beat UAB, 63-59, in El Paso last season.  UAB is 6-2 versus UTEP in Birmingham, with all eight games decided by nine points or less.

THE LAST MEETING
Omega Harris scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half as UTEP rallied from an 11-point deficit and beat UAB, 63-59, on Feb. 2, 2017 at the Haskins Center.  UTEP shot 31.8 percent in the first half but found its offensive groove over the final 20 minutes, shooting 57.7 percent and outscoring UAB 44-31.  After getting dominated on the boards in the first half, the Miners posted a slim rebounding advantage (16-15) after halftime.  They also committed just three turnovers in the second half.  A 21-6 run in the second half turned a 36-29 deficit into a 50-42 lead.  Harris scored eight points in the run, and Dominic Artis finished it off with a three-pointer and a layup off his own steal.  The Miners scored eight points off eight UAB turnovers in the second half, and Artis registered four of his career-high tying five steals after halftime.  The Blazers cut a 10-point UTEP lead (56-46) down to three on three separate occasions over the last two minutes, but the Miners made just enough timely buckets down the stretch to finish them off.  Harris was 7-for-10 from the field and 4-for-4 from the line in the second half.  Artis collected 11 points, five rebounds and eight assists.  Matt Willms had 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.  The Miners shot 45.8 percent with only 10 turnovers.  UAB shot 39.3 percent and outrebounded UTEP 39-32.  Both teams struggled at the line with UTEP finishing 15-for-25 and UAB 9-for-18.  The Miners were much better at the stripe in the second half (11-for-15).

LAST GAME
Giovanni De Nicolao scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half and made several big plays down the stretch as UTSA rallied past short-handed UTEP, 65-61 on Saturday at the Convocation Center.  The Miners only got 10 minutes from Matt Willms before he exited with an injury, and played most of the second half without Paul Thomas who got in foul trouble.  They almost held on for an inspired victory, leading for over 34 minutes of the game, but it was the Roadrunners who came up big late.  After UTSA opened the game with a three-pointer the Miners scored eight straight points, part of a 21-2 run.  UTEP led 21-5 when Kobe Magee hit a jumper at the 12:21 mark.  The Miners led 26-16 when Willms went out with 10:23 remaining in the half.  Within two minutes, the Roadrunners cut the deficit in half (28-23).  UTEP led 42-38 at halftime.  Thomas had one foul at halftime.  Ninety seconds into the second half, he had four.  He played six minutes in the second half.  The Miners scored 19 points in the second half, when they shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24) from the field and 13.3 percent (2-for-15) from three-point territory.  UTSA only scored 27 and shot 33.3 percent, but it was enough to win.  De Nicolao’s layup with 6:50 to play put UTSA in the lead (54-53) for the first time since it was 3-2.  That was the start of 10 straight points that he scored for the Roadrunners.  Still, the Miners took a 61-60 lead with 41 seconds left when Evan Gilyard fed Thomas for a basket down low.  But Nick Allen gave UTSA the lead for good, 62-61, on a jumper with 24 seconds remaining.  Then Omega Harris turned it over, and Jhivvan Jackson converted the miscue into a layup.  Isiah Osborne missed a three, and the game was all but over.  Osborne led the Miners with 20 points.  Thomas added 12 points.  Keaton Wallace scored 20 points off the bench for UTSA.  The Miners did a bang-up job on the Roadrunners’ top player, Jhivvan Jackson.  Making his first start, he scored 11 points, making 3-of-14 shots and 1-of-9 three pointers.

20-20-20 VISION
Sophomore guard Isiah Osborne recorded his third 20-point game of the 2017-18 campaign at UTSA on Saturday.  Osborne led the Miners in both points (20) and rebounds (nine) for the first time this season.  He is one of five players to lead the Miners in scoring and rebounding in a game this season, along with Keith Frazier (four times), Paul Thomas (once), Trey Wade (once) and Matt Willms (once).  Osborne’s three 20-point games are one shy of team leader Frazier’s four.  He is the first UTEP sophomore to score 20 points three times in a season since Vince Hunter compiled seven 20-point outings during the 2014-15 season.

OSBORNE IN LEAGUE PLAY
Isiah Osborne has been the Miners’ best player in C-USA action.  In six league games (did not play versus North Texas), Osborne has scored in double figures five times while averaging 17.0 points.  That would make him the second highest-scoring sophomore in C-USA play after North Texas’ Roosevelt Smart (22.9 ppg).  Osborne is 10th in the league in scoring for conference games only.  He is shooting 47.9 percent from the floor, 40.5 percent from three-point range and 65.4 percent from the line versus C-USA competition.  In non-conference games, Osborne averaged 6.0 ppg while compiling a .365 field goal percentage, .308 three-point percentage and .522 free throw percentage.

MINERS NEED BALANCE
UTEP dropped to 0-9 this season when two or fewer players score in double figures with Saturday’s 65-61 loss at UTSA.  The Miners are 7-3 when three or more players tally 10 points or more.  UTEP has had two double figure scorers in three of the last four games — at LA Tech (Isiah Osborne 25 points, Omega Harris 21 points), versus Florida Atlantic (Evan Gilyard 20 points, Harris 11 points) and at UTSA (Osborne 20 points, Paul Thomas 12 points).

HARD-LUCK MINERS
UTEP has lost three C-USA games (1-3 record) in which it led at halftime.  The Miners were up 30-24 on North Texas at the break (lost 63-62), up 34-29 on Florida Atlantic (lost 73-66) and up 42-38 at UTSA (lost 65-61).  A year ago, the Miners were 7-2 in league games where they were ahead at the midway point.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
Five of the Miners’ seven league games have been decided by nine or fewer points, including each of the last four.  The last three C-USA games were determined by a total of 15 points.  UTEP is 1-4 this season in games decided by five points or fewer.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
UTEP was seeking a 40-minute defensive effort at UTSA and got it, as the Roadrunners — who averaged 83.6 ppg coming in — were limited to 65 points.  UTSA shot 38.7 percent in the first half and 33.3 percent in the second half.  In the previous six C-USA games, opponents averaged 44.8 ppg in the second half while shooting 54.1 (93-for-172) percent from the field.  UTSA scored only 27 points in the second half, but the Miners were held to 19 points over the final 20 minutes — their fewest in a half this season.  UTEP also limited UTSA to only eight free throw attempts in the second half; the previous six league opponents went to the line a whopping 95 times (15.8 avg.) after the break.

MINI MINERS
A UTEP team that was already lacking in size lost 7-1 Matt Willms to an injury after 10 minutes at UTSA, and 6-8 Paul Thomas to foul trouble in the opening minutes of the second half.  That left 6-7 Jake Flaggert as the Miners’ tallest player and, predictably, they were outrebounded for the third time in seven league games (43-32).  In fact, after outrebounding their first three C-USA opponents for the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Miners have now been outboarded in three of the last four contests.  UTEP had one offensive rebound at UTSA, a season-low, and it came courtesy of 6-1 point guard Kobe Magee.

OMEGA’S DYNAMITE “D”
He may have only scored nine points, but senior guard Omega Harris delivered an “A+” performance at UTSA on Saturday.  Days after battling the flu, he was assigned the Roadrunners’ premier offensive performer in freshman guard Jhivvan Jackson, who was averaging 23.0 ppg in C-USA play.  Jackson had scored 20+ points in four straight games and six of the last seven.  But with Harris hounding him, Jackson finished with 11 points.  He made just 3-of-14 shots from the field and connected on 1-of-9 three-point tries.

GILYARD’S RESURGENCE
Freshman guard Evan Gilyard has been a key figure for UTEP of late, averaging 12.5 points over the last four games while shooting 44.8 percent (13-for-29) from the field, 42.9 percent (6-for-14) from three and 85.7 percent (18-for-21) from the line.  He scored in double figures in consecutive games for the first time this season versus Florida Atlantic and FIU, including a UTEP-best 20 points versus the Owls.  Gilyard has put together seven turnover-free performances in 2017-18, most recently on Saturday at UTSA when he was on the floor for 14 minutes.  He is tied for 10th in C-USA in free throw percentage for league games only (.808).

WADE’S LEAGUE IMPACT
Freshman guard Trey Wade leads UTEP in rebounding (6.1 rpg) and blocks (1.0 bpg) in C-USA play.  He pulled down a season-high eight boards versus FIU on Jan. 13, and matched his UTEP-best with four blocks in that game.  Wade is also shooting a team-high 54.8 percent from the field against league competition.  He has scored in double figures four times in 2017-18, with a season-high 16 points versus Rice on Dec. 30.  Wade is seventh in C-USA in field goal percentage for conference games only, 10th in blocks, and tied for 15th in rebounds.

THOMAS SHOWING SIGNS
It’s been an uneven season for junior forward Paul Thomas, but over the last three games he has averaged 10.3 points while shooting 56.5 percent (13-for-23) from the field.  Thomas has scored in double figures in back-to-back C-USA games for the first time this season as he posted 10 points versus FIU, and 12 at UTSA.  Overall he has tallied 10+ points on eight occasions in 2017-18.

MAGEE LEADS THE LEAGUE
Freshman guard Kobe Magee is shooting 63.6 percent (14-for-22) from three-point range in Conference USA games to rank first in C-USA.  Magee also ranks fourth in assist/turnover ratio (2.8) for league games only.  Magee, who has started the last 11 games, dished out eight assists at LA Tech — the most by a UTEP player in 2017-18.  It also marked the most dimes by a Miner freshman since Malik Alvin recorded eight versus Toledo on Dec. 23, 2006.

FREE THROW SHOOTING COMING AROUND
UTEP made 13-of-22 free throws (59.1 percent) in its first two C-USA games against North Texas and Rice.  Since then, the Miners have gone 65-for-92 at the stripe (70.7 percent), including 11-for-13 (84.6 percent) on Saturday at UTSA.  During the five-game stretch, Evan Gilyard leads UTEP by going 18-for-21 (85.7 percent) at the foul line.  He has made his last 12 free throws entering Thursday’s game at UAB.

STILL ON TOP
The Miners still lead C-USA in three-point field goal percentage (.411) for C-USA games only.  UTEP is averaging 8.9 made threes versus league competition (tied for fourth in C-USA).  The Miners made 12 threes against Rice, 11 at Southern Miss and 14 at LA Tech, making this the first team in school history to hit 11 or more triples in three consecutive games.  Overall UTEP has made eight or more trifectas in five of the last six contests.

BOMBS AWAY FROM THREE
Devoid of an inside game and facing the UTSA zone, the Miners jacked up a season-high 30 three-point attempts at UTSA on Saturday.  It marked only the second time that UTEP attempted 30 or more three-point shots versus a C-USA opponent.  On Jan. 31, 2007 the Miners went 12-for-37 from beyond the arc at Southern Miss.

SUPER 70
Seventy has been a magic number of sorts for the Miners in 2017-18 as six of their seven wins have come when they notch 70 points or more.  UTEP is 1-8 when scoring less than 70 points.  The Miners are 1-7 when giving up 70 points or more.

HARRIS NOW 13TH ON SCORING LIST
Senior guard Omega Harris scored 20+ points for the second time this season, and the 13th time in his career at LA Tech on Jan. 6.  He currently stands in 13th place on the Miners’ all-time scoring list (1,265 points).  He is chasing Jim Barnes, the no. 1 pick in the 1964 NBA Draft who is in 12th place with 1,308 points.  Harris also ranks fourth in school history in three-point field goals (154), ninth in minutes (3,368) and 13th in steals (115).

DOUBLE FIGURES OFF THE PINE
Seven different players have scored in double figures off the bench in a game for UTEP this season.  Listed alphabetically, they are Keith Frazier (versus Appalachian State & North Texas), Evan Gilyard (Washington State, Florida Atlantic & FIU), Kobe Magee (New Mexico), Isiah Osborne (Louisiana College, Rice & Southern Miss), Tirus Smith (Incarnate Word), Trey Wade (Louisiana College, Lamar & Rice) and Matt Willms (North Texas & Southern Miss).

WINNING FORMULA
UTEP has averaged 79.6 points per game in its seven victories this season, as five players have averaged at least 10 points per game (Keith Frazier 16.0 ppg, Omega Harris 15.0 ppg, Isiah Osborne 12.0 ppg, Trey Wade 11.7 ppg, Paul Thomas 10.0 ppg).  The Miners have shot 49.1 percent from the field (196-for-399) in their wins and have a positive (+1.4) rebound margin.  They have also forced 95 turnovers (13.6 avg.) while coughing up the basketball only 73 times (10.4 avg.).  Another stat that jumps out at you in the Miners’ seven victories is a 21-4 advantage in blocked shots, helping lead to a .379 (152-for-401) defensive field goal percentage.

100-GAME CLUB
Three members of this year’s team have played in 100 games for the Miners.  Jake Flaggert leads the way with 111 contests, while Omega Harris and Matt Willms have both appeared in 107 games.

WILLMS’ CAREER
Matt Willms has collected 812 points, 482 rebounds and 113 blocks in his UTEP career.  He is sixth in school history in blocked shots.  His career field goal percentage of .572 (319-for-558) would rank third in the UTEP record book behind Cedrick Lang (.581) and Brandon Wolfram (.579).

FOLLOWING FRAZIER
Grad transfer Keith Frazier has led the Miners in points and rebounds four times this season.  Frazier became the first UTEP player to lead the team in all five stat categories (points/rebounds/assists/blocks/steals) against North Dakota State (Dec. 22) since Lee Moore at Charlotte on Feb. 27, 2016.  Frazier has compiled four 20-point games in 2017-18 and scored his season-high 25 points versus Appalachian State on Nov. 19.  He has been the Miners’ top scorer six times and top rebounder seven times.  Overall he is averaging a team-high 12.5 ppg and ranks second on the squad with 5.3 rpg.

TWELVE LINEUPS
UTEP has utilized 12 different starting lineups in the first 19 games of the season.  Omega Harris is the only player to start every game.  All 11 scholarship players have made starts in 2017-18 after nine players started last season.  Pittsburgh leads the nation with 14 starting lineup combinations, followed by Bryant, Florida Gulf Coast and UT Martin with 13 each.  UTEP is fifth with 12 different starting lineups.

JAKE TAKES CHARGE
Jake Flaggert led Conference USA in charges drawn in both 2015-16 (18) and 2016-17 (33).  He has taken five charges in limited action this season, giving him 62 in his career.

CHARGE CLUB
While Jake Flaggert has traditionally been known as the Miners’ resident “charge drawer,” a freshman duo has gotten into the act in 2017-18.  Evan Gilyard and Tirus Smith lead the squad with 10 and nine charges drawn, respectively.  Together they have accounted for 67.9 percent (19-of-28) of the Miners’ charges drawn this season.

HITTING THE CENTURY MARK
The Miners scored 100 points in a season opener for only the third time against Louisiana College.  UTEP scored 109 points versus Fort Lewis and UT-Permian Basin during the 1988-89 and 2003-04 seasons, respectively.  The Miners scored 100 points for the 31st time in school history.

UTSA Rallies to Down Depleted Miners 65-61

SAN ANTONIO – Giovanni De Nicolao scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half and made several big plays down the stretch as UTSA rallied to defeat short-handed UTEP 65-61 on Saturday at the Convocation Center.

The Miners (7-12, 2-5 C-USA) only got 10 minutes from Matt Willms before he exited with an injury, and played most of the second half without Paul Thomas who got in foul trouble.  They almost held on for an inspired victory, leading for over 34 minutes of the game, but it was the Roadrunners (10-10, 3-4 C-USA) who came up big late.

“We played really good basketball for about 75 percent of the game and obviously we got into some foul trouble and had to go to our bench a little bit,” UTEP assistant coach Bobby Braswell said.  “Losing Matt is a big blow to us.  A bunch of little things didn’t go our way, but our guys really fought.  Our guys really gave a great effort.  They were locked in, they were tuned in to what we were trying to do defensively and offensively.  I have a lot of respect for our guys for what they did tonight.  Miner fans should be proud.  They showed a lot of heart and played extremely tough tonight against a team that made some big plays down the stretch, and we weren’t able to do that.”

After UTSA opened the game with a three-pointer the Miners scored eight straight points, part of a 21-2 run.  UTEP led 21-5 when Kobe Magee hit a jumper at the 12:21 mark.

“We did just a great job of executing the game plan, and a lot of it had to do with what we were doing defensively,” Braswell said.  “We were able to get some early run outs because we were able to get them to take some shots they’re probably not used to taking.  We defended really well and then offensively we came down and had a really good flow.  Isiah [Osborne] got off to a hot start for us and Kobe played really well at the very beginning of the game.  Those things really helped us.  I thought we played unselfishly and we didn’t turn the ball over.”

The Miners led 26-16 when Willms went out with 10:23 remaining in the half.  Within two minutes, the Roadrunners cut the deficit in half (28-23).  UTEP led 42-38 at halftime.

Thomas had one foul at halftime.  Ninety seconds into the second half, he had four.  He played six minutes in the second half.

“The three fouls Paul got early in the half, and then you take Matt out of the mix, that’s really our inside game right now without Tirus Smith being here,” Braswell said.  “You’ve got to give their coaches credit, a really smart move to not only play a zone but [they] extended their zone out to our shooters and made it really hard for us to get open shots on the perimeter.  We just didn’t have the inside game the way we normally would against that zone.  That was really tough.  But our guys made a great effort.”

The Miners scored 19 points in the second half, when they shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24) from the field and 13.3 percent (2-for-15) from three-point territory.  UTSA only scored 27 and shot 33.3 percent, but it was enough to win.

De Nicolao’s layup with 6:50 to play put UTSA in the lead (54-53) for the first time since it was 3-2.  That was the start of 10 straight points that he scored for the Roadrunners.

Still, the Miners took a 61-60 lead with 41 seconds left when Evan Gilyard fed Thomas for a basket down low.  But Nick Allen gave UTSA the lead for good, 62-61, on a jumper with 24 seconds remaining.  Then Omega Harris turned it over, and Jhivvan Jackson converted the miscue into a layup.  Osborne missed a three, and the game was all but over.

“We ran that play down there at the end and we got it to Paul down on the baseline and he scored and we had a one-point lead and really, all we had to do was get a stop.  We weren’t able to get a stop,” Braswell said.  “We weren’t able to get that stop that we needed.  We’ve been talking about defending better in the second half.  Tonight we did that.  They only scored 27 points in the second half, and they shot 33 percent from the floor in the second half.  So we did our job defensively, we just had a struggle on the offensive end.  It’s going to be great, it’s going to be exciting once we’re able to put the offense and the defense together in one game.”

Osborne led the Miners with 20 points.  Thomas added 12 points.  Keaton Wallace scored 20 points off the bench for UTSA.  The Miners did a bang-up job on the Roadrunners’ top player, Jhivvan Jackson.  Making his first start, he scored 11 points, making 3-of-14 shots and 1-of-9 three pointers.

“Omega did a great job on him tonight,” Braswell said.  “He had a tough assignment and I think people don’t realize when you’re assigned to a tough offensive guy like that, it takes a lot of energy from you.  Omega only got four shots up the entire game.  He’s got to get more shots up than that.  We’re not going to win if Omega is only taking four shots in the game.”

UTEP will continue a three-game C-USA road swing at UAB on Thursday.  Tip-off is 6 p.m. MT and the game will be televised on beIN Sports.

HP Sports In-Depth: Miners Looking For Complete Defensive Effort at UTSA Saturday

UTEP’s defense has been very good in stretches, and not so good in other stretches through the first six Conference USA games.

On Saturday, when the Miners launch a three-game league road swing at UTSA, they’ll be looking for a complete performance guarding a team that ranks second in C-USA in scoring (83.6 ppg).

“They score a lot of points, they shoot a lot of threes, and they get down the floor very quickly,” Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “We’ve got to get back and get back to defending for 40 minutes. It’s been pretty good for a half here and there, but the second halves recently have been pretty poor.”

The Miners (7-11, 2-4 C-USA) will probably have to score to keep up with the Roadrunners (9-10, 2-4 C-USA), too. UTSA is led by guard Jhivvan Jackson, the highest-scoring freshman in C-USA (18.9 ppg). The product of Euless Trinity High School has scored 20+ points nine times this season with a high of 31 points at Oklahoma (Dec. 4). Jackson has scored 20+ points in four straight games and six of the last seven. He is averaging 23.0 ppg in league play. UTSA leads C-USA and rates 20th nationally with 10.4 three-pointers made per game.

If Isiah Osborne continues to score like he has in league play (16.4 ppg), the Miners can match the Roadrunners on the offensive end. Osborne picked up his second 20-point game in C-USA action when he put 21 points on the board in last Saturday’s victory over FIU.

“I’m still learning about Isiah. I think he’s gaining some confidence,” Johnson said. “I told him the same thing I told Kobe [Magee]. He went 0-for-7 from three [last Saturday], and if he sees a shot I don’t want him to hesitate. With shots, generally speaking, when you miss you’re off balance. Just a little bit can throw your entire shot off. So just maintain your balance, but if you’ve got room in space, shoot it. And we tell most of our guys that.”

Osborne showed the versatility of his game by getting to the line 10 times (making seven) against FIU.

“We have some guys that shoot the ball pretty well, and we have some guys that can drive it and don’t shoot it so well,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a couple of post-up guys. But Isiah is probably the one guy out here right now that can do both. In that game the other night, he felt like his shot wasn’t falling so he drove to the basket and got fouled quite a bit. He is the one guy that can shoot it and drive it, so we put him in situations to go do both of those.”

Magee will return to his hometown on Saturday night. He played his prep ball at Brandeis High School. He led the Broncos to a 93-30 record, including a 31-2 mark and top-10 state ranking his junior year. A four-year varsity starter, he concluded his career as Brandeis’ all-time leading scorer with 1,876 points.

“I know he’s going to want to play very well going back home,” Johnson said. “He’ll have a lot of family and friends there. They’ve got an excellent guard in Jackson who leads their team in scoring. Kobe has played against him in summer ball, and quite a bit obviously in high school as well. Those two know each other.”

The Miners, who have been short-handed in the frontcourt all season, will be even more depleted with Tirus Smith missing 2-3 weeks with a knee injury. It will be a team effort replacing his production.

“Trey Wade, Paul Thomas, Jake Flaggert, everybody,” Johnson said. “Jake and Trey Wade really are not true four men, so you have Matt at the five with no backup and Paul will go play there. When Matt gets tired we’ll bring Trey Wade and Jake Flaggert in for whoever is in foul trouble and whoever gets tired quickly. So there will be moments where Paul Thomas will be at the five and Trey Wade or Jake Flaggert at the four.”

At 2-4, the Miners are in search of road victories.

“We’re real close to being 3-3 or 4-2. It is what it is, we’re 2-4,” Johnson said. “But we actually could conceivably go from 11th place to sixth place with a win on Saturday night. There’s a lot at stake in this game coming up, really every game from here on means a lot. We’re just trying to keep moving up the ladder and go play well. It’s important for me and our team to go play well on the road.”

Saturday’s game will be televised on KMYS-CW35 in San Antonio and can be seen in El Paso on KOFX-TV. Fans in the Sun City can view the game on Time Warner Cable (channels 8 & 1206), DirectTV (channel 14), Dish Network (channel 14), AT&T U-verse (channels 14 & 1014) and Comcast (channels 8 & 213). Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. MT.

**In Depth

ABOUT UTSA
The Roadrunners have dropped three straight C-USA games overall, and three nailbiters in a row at the Convocation Center to North Texas (72-71), FIU (79-76) and Florida Atlantic (73-69).  Four of UTSA’s last five league games have been decided by four points or less.  UTSA is 6-3 at home this season (1-3 in C-USA games).  The Roadrunners are led by guard Jhivvan Jackson, the highest-scoring freshman in C-USA (18.9 ppg).  The product of Euless Trinity High School in Euless, Texas is shooting 43.2 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from downtown and 80.7 percent from the line.  Jackson has scored 20+ points nine times this season with a high of 31 points at Oklahoma (Dec. 4).  Jackson has scored 20+ points in four straight games and six of the last seven.  He is averaging 23.0 ppg in league play.  Five other players are averaging at least eight points for a UTSA squad that puts 83.6 ppg on the board (second in C-USA).  Freshman guard Keaton Wallace is collecting 12.4 ppg, junior guard/forward Deon Lyle (Cloud County CC transfer) 9.3 ppg, junior forward Nick Allen 9.2 ppg and sophomore guard George Wilborn III 8.8 ppg.  The Roadunners are yielding 77.7 ppg (next-to-last in C-USA), but they rate third in the league in field goal percentage defense (.415).  UTSA leads C-USA and rates 20th nationally with 10.4 three-pointers made per game; the Roadrunners average 29.4 attempts while shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.

SERIES HISTORY
UTEP leads the series 10-3.  The Miners are 6-2 versus the Roadrunners since they joined the league for the 2013-14 season.  UTEP is 3-2 when playing at UTSA but has dropped two in a row to the Roadrunners in the Convocation Center.

THE LAST MEETING
UTEP blew the game open with a 13-0 run midway through the first half, and frustrated UTSA defensively throughout in a 59-39 dismantling of the Roadrunners on Jan. 21, 2017 in the Haskins Center.  UTSA’s 39 points and .241 field goal percentage were the second-lowest marks by a UTEP opponent in a Conference USA game.  Omega Harris scored 16 points, Paul Thomas had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Jake Flaggert scored 11 points.  The 13-0 run pushed the UTEP lead from 12-10 to 25-10.  Five players scored during the run, including reserves Chris Barnes and Trey Touchet.  UTSA made 7-of-29 shots (24.1 percent) in both halves.  The Roadrunners finished 2-for-22 from three-point range.  Lucas O’Brien’s three-point play with 14:57 remaining in the half pulled UTSA within one (10-9).  The Roadrunners didn’t score their next field goal until 2:32 left in the period, when J.R. Harris’ three-pointer cut an 18-point Miner lead (32-14) down to 15.  In-between, UTEP outscored UTSA 22-5.  The Miners maintained leads of at least 17 points throughout the second half despite shooting 27.3 percent and scoring 20 points.  The Miners outrebounded UTSA, one of C-USA’s top teams on the boards, 42-37.  Kelvin Jones snared 10 rebounds in a reserve role.

LAST GAME
Isiah Osborne scored 21 points in UTEP’s 72-68 victory over FIU last Saturday in the Haskins Center.  UTEP turned the ball over only seven times against FIU, which led C-USA in steals coming in (8.2 spg).  The Panthers had only one steal and Brian Beard Jr., who was third nationally in steals entering the contest (3.4 spg), had zero.  The Miners made their free throws (21-for-30, 70 percent), and the Panthers didn’t (14-for-30, 46.7 percent).  And UTEP, minus freshman forward Tirus Smith who has a knee injury, outrebounded FIU 43-40.  The Miners still struggled defensively in the second half when the Panthers shot 59.4 percent and outscored them 50-42.  But they were able to hold on, going 19-for-26 from the charity stripe over the final 20 minutes.  UTEP got off to a great start, leading 13-2.  The Miners were up 30-18 at halftime as Paul Thomas had a big first half with nine points.  FIU heated up in the second half.  A 13-0 run by the Panthers erased a 45-33 deficit and gave them their first lead, 46-45, on a layup by Beard with 9:35 to go.  After the teams traded baskets, the Miners scored five in a row to regain the lead, 52-48.  The game was tied 53-all at the six-minute mark when UTEP put together a 10-0 run and surged in front 63-53.  UTEP was firmly in control the rest of the way.   Osborne did most of his damage driving to the basket and finished 7-for-10 from the line.  He added seven rebounds.  Evan Gilyard scored 14 points.  Omega Harris and Thomas had 10 each.  And Trey Wade was a stat stuffer with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in 27 minutes.  Matt Willms also had eight boards along with two blocks for UTEP.  Michael Douglas and Hassan Hussein led FIU with 19 points each.

HOMECOMING FOR MAGEE
Freshman guard Kobe Magee will return to his hometown this weekend.  Magee played his prep ball at Brandeis High School.  He led the Broncos to a 93-30 record, including a 31-2 mark and top-10 state ranking his junior year.  Magee was named the 2017 District 28-6A Offensive MVP and All-Region by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC).  A four-year varsity starter, he concluded his career as Brandeis’ all-time leading scorer with 1,876 points.  Magee has started the last 10 games for UTEP and is averaging 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists.  He is second on the team in assists (33) this season.

MAGEE’S FAST START IN C-USA PLAY
Freshman guard Kobe Magee is shooting 68.4 percent (13-for-19) from three-point range in Conference USA games to rank first in C-USA.  He also ranks fourth in assist/turnover ratio (3.0) for league games only.  Magee, who has started the last 10 games, dished out eight assists at LA Tech — the most by a UTEP player in 2017-18.  It also marked the most dimes by a Miner freshman since Malik Alvin recorded eight versus Toledo on Dec. 23, 2006.

GILYARD’S PRODUCTIVE WEEKEND
Freshman guard Evan Gilyard put up strong numbers in last weekend’s homestand.  Gilyard scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time as a Miner, averaging 17.0 ppg as UTEP beat FIU and lost to Florida Atlantic.  He scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half against the Owls.  He made 5-of-9 shots and 3-of-5 three pointers over the final 20 minutes versus FAU.  Gilyard added 14 points and was 8-for-8 from the line in the second half (9-for-10 for the game) as the Miners held off the Panthers.  He finished the week 9-for-19 from the field, 4-for-8 from downtown and 12-for-14 from the charity stripe while adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 41 minutes over the two contests.

BACK-TO-BACK GAMES IN DF FOR GILYARD
Evan Gilyard is the third freshman to put together consecutive double-figure scoring games this season.  Tirus Smith did so versus Incarnate Word (15 points) and Howard (17 points), and Trey Wade achieved the feat against Lamar (13 points) and NM State (11 points).  UTEP hasn’t had a freshman compile three straight games with 10+ points since Terry Winn had a seven-gamer during the 2015-16 season.

MINERS PLANT FOUR IN DOUBLE FIGURES
UTEP placed four players in double figure scoring for the second time in six C-USA games on Saturday versus FIU.  The first time this happened was on Jan. 4 at Southern Miss.  Isiah Osborne tallied 21 points, Evan Gilyard 14, Omega Harris 10 and Paul Thomas 10 against the Panthers.  UTEP is 5-2 this season when four or more players score in double digits.

TWO PLAYERS WITH 10 FREE THROW ATTEMPTS
Evan Gilyard and Isiah Osborne were a combined 16-for-20 from the line in UTEP’s 72-68 triumph over FIU on Saturday.  Both went to the line a season-high 10 times.  Tirus Smith is the only other Miner to shoot 10 free throws in a game this season (versus Howard).  Prior to Saturday, the last time UTEP had two players with 10+ free throw attempts in a game was on Nov. 27, 2015 against Southern Illinois when Lee Moore had 11 attempts and Terry Winn had 10.

GETTING TO THE CHARITY STRIPE
UTEP matched its season-high for free throws made (21) against FIU, and the 30 free throw attempts were a season best.  The previous high was 27 attempted versus New Mexico on Dec. 2.  UTEP went to the line 30+ times on four occasions during the 2016-17 campaign.

VERY FEW TURNOVERS
The Miners improved to 4-1 this season when they have single-digit turnovers in last Saturday’s 72-68 conquest of FIU.  UTEP committed only seven turnovers against the Panthers.  The Miners have had nine or fewer giveaways in five of the last 10 games after committing 11 or more in each of the first eight contests.

HITTING 70
Seventy has been a magic number of sorts for the Miners in 2017-18 as six of their seven wins have come when they notch 70 points or more.  UTEP is 1-7 when scoring less than 70 points.  The Miners dropped consecutive games at Southern Miss (85-75) and LA Tech (97-88) when scoring 70 prior to breaking through with a 72-68 victory over FIU.

HOLDING ‘EM UNDER 70
UTEP yielded 70+ points in three consecutive games, tying its season-long streak, before holding FIU to 68 on Saturday.  The 72-68 win made the Miners 6-4 in 2017-18 when surrendering less than 70 points (UTEP is 1-7 when giving up 70 or more).

WINNING THE REBOUNDING WAR
For all their troubles on the glass this season (-3.9 rebound margin), the Miners have now outrebounded four of their first six conference opponents.  UTEP outrebounded its first three league foes (North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss) for the first time since the 2007-08 season.  And last Saturday versus FIU, the Miners controlled the glass 43-40.  UTEP’s rebound margin is -1.2 in C-USA action, but if you throw out the Florida Atlantic game where the Miners were pummeled 49-33, the margin becomes a much more respectable +1.8.

SIX BLOCKS, LED BY WADE
The Miners recorded six blocked shots in last Saturday’s victory over FIU, their most in a conference game since Feb. 25, 2016 at Old Dominion (six).  Freshman guard Trey Wade registered four rejections for the second time this season (South Carolina).  He is the first UTEP freshman to tally four blocks in a game since Matt Willms versus Loyola (New Orleans) on Nov. 9, 2013.  Wade is second on the team in blocks with 12 despite playing in only 12 of 18 games.

SPEAKING OF WADE …
Trey Wade put together the best all-around game of his young UTEP career the last time out versus FIU.  He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in a career-high 27 minutes.  At 6-6 and in a reserve role, Wade has led the Miners in rebounding in three of the last five games.

OSBORNE EMERGES
Sophomore guard Isiah Osborne got a DNP in the Miners’ first C-USA game against Rice.  Since then, he has been UTEP’s best player in league action.  Osborne is averaging 16.4 ppg in conference games only, shooting 50 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three-point territory.  He has scored 60 of his 82 points in the second half in league play.  Osborne put 25 points on the board at LA Tech, and added 21 points versus FIU last Saturday.

GOING THE DISTANCE
Isiah Osborne became the second Miner to play a full game in 2017-18 the last time out versus FIU.  Omega Harris played 40 minutes against Boise State, Incarnate Word and Howard.  After averaging 21.2 minutes in non-conference play, Osborne is collecting 31.2 mpg against C-USA competition.

IMPROVING OFFENSE
After averaging 67.9 points per game during the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Miners are scoring at a 73.8 ppg clip in Conference USA action.  UTEP has also raised its field goal percentage from .424 to .479 and its three-point percentage from .298 to .446.  The Miners averaged over 70 points per game in league play five times during their first 12 years as a member of C-USA, with a high water mark of 77.3 ppg in 2015-16.  UTEP is second in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage, third in field goal percentage, and fourth in three-pointers made per game (9.0) for league games only.

HARRIS NOW 13TH ON SCORING LIST
Senior guard Omega Harris scored 20+ points for the second time this season, and the 13th time in his career at LA Tech on Jan. 6.  He currently stands in 13th place on the Miners’ all-time scoring list (1,256 points).  He is chasing Jim Barnes, the no. 1 pick in the 1964 NBA Draft who is in 12th place with 1,308 points.  Harris also ranks fourth in school history in three-point field goals (153), 11th in minutes (3,328) and 13th in steals (114).

DOUBLE FIGURES OFF THE PINE
Seven different players have scored in double figures off the bench in a game for UTEP this season.  Listed alphabetically, they are Keith Frazier (versus Appalachian State & North Texas), Evan Gilyard (Washington State, Florida Atlantic & FIU), Kobe Magee (New Mexico), Isiah Osborne (Louisiana College, Rice & Southern Miss), Tirus Smith (Incarnate Word), Trey Wade (Louisiana College, Lamar & Rice) and Matt Willms (North Texas & Southern Miss).

WINNING FORMULA
UTEP has averaged 79.6 points per game in its seven victories this season, as five players have averaged at least 10 points per game (Keith Frazier 16.0 ppg, Omega Harris 15.0 ppg, Isiah Osborne 12.0 ppg, Trey Wade 11.7 ppg, Paul Thomas 10.0 ppg).  The Miners have shot 49.1 percent from the field (196-for-399) in their wins and have a positive (+1.4) rebound margin.  They have also forced 95 turnovers (13.6 avg.) while coughing up the basketball only 73 times (10.4 avg.).  Another stat that jumps out at you in the Miners’ seven victories is a 21-4 advantage in blocked shots, helping lead to a .379 (152-for-401) defensive field goal percentage.

100-GAME CLUB
Three members of this year’s team have played in 100 games for the Miners.  Jake Flaggert leads the way with 110 contests, while Omega Harris and Matt Willms have both appeared in 106 games.

 

Miners Rally to Down Florida Atlantic 75-70

Najala Howell (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Tamara Seda (20 points, 10 rebounds) both posted double-doubles, and UTEP rallied from 15 down to knock off Florida Atlantic, 75-70, at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.

This year’s Miners (12-6, 3-2 C-USA) become the first team in program history to have multiple 15+ point comebacks. Moreover, with 12 wins Kevin Baker now has the most victories by any first-year UTEP head coach in program history.

But the Owls (8-7, 2-2 C-USA) made them work for it by nailing 10 triples, including eight in the first half, to lead, 45-30, late in the first half. The deficit was 11 midway through the third quarter before the Miners wrapped a 15-0 run around the quarter break to secure their first lead since the opening minutes of action. It was back-and-forth down the stretch with four lead changes in the final five minutes, including UTEP scoring the final six points of the contest after FAU led 70-69 with 56 seconds left.

“We challenged our team at halftime to guard with purpose like we’d been practicing all week and we’d be just fine,” Baker said. “In the second quarter they scored 26 points; in the third and fourth together they scored 25. It was all about guarding for us. When our team did that, it really fed into our offense. I keep saying this about our team, we’re down but we’re never out.”

Katarina Zec joined Howell and Seda in double figures with 13 points and six boards while Jordan Jenkins, Jordan Alexander and Zuzanna Puc each chipped in six points. Roeshonda Patterson made an impact with a career-high seven rebounds and a pair of steals in 14 minutes off the bench.

The Miners won the boards, 46-38, while also holding an advantage for points in the paint at 34-22. UTEP connected on 43.5 percent (27-63) while also taking care of business at the charity stripe by going 19-24 (79.2 percent).

FAU was held to 35.8 percent (24-67), including 30.3 percent (10-33) from beyond-the-arc. Malia Kency tallied 21 points to lead a quartet of Owls in double figures.

UTEP got off to an early 6-2 lead but the Owls countered with a 14-6 push to secure their own four-point advantage (16-12) with 1:17 left in the period. A Howell jumper cut the deficit to two but an offensive rebound led to a wide-open triple to beat the first quarter buzzer for Alexis Cowan.

The run wrapped around the quarter break reached eight straight points to afford Florida Atlantic a 10-point margin (24-14) with 8:56 to play in the half. UTEP didn’t flinch, as it slowly but surely started to chip away at the deficit. The Miners reduced it to five on a trio of occasions but a 12-2 surge by the Owls put the Miners down 15 (45-30) with 47 seconds left in the stanza. UTEP closed strong, using a 3-pointer by Howell and a jumper courtesy of Puc to climb within 10 (45-35) heading to the locker room.

The deficit was 11 (55-44) with 4:35 to play in the third quarter but UTEP started to make its move. The Miners ripped off nine consecutive points to close out the frame with momentum and reduce the FAU lead to two (55-53) heading to the fourth quarter.

The Miners continued to play well at the onset of the fourth quarter by scoring six straight. The effort made it a 15-0 run wrapped around the quarter break, and gave them their first lead (58-55) since the opening quarter. FAU finally put an end to it with a jumper and a pair of free throws, but the damage had been done.

The pendulum of momentum was firmly with the Orange and Blue, who put together a 5-0 run to break a 60-60 tie. FAU rallied with a 10-4 sequence to grab the aforementioned 70-69 advantage but it was short-lived. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Howell, off a feed from Seda who matched her career high with four assists, put UTEP back in front. The Miners got two more stops and hit three of their final four free throw attempts to ice the contest.

UTEP will be idle until it opens up a two-game roadswing at Rice at 6 p.m. MST/7 p.m. CST on Jan. 26. The Miners are also slated to play at North Texas at 2 p.m. MST/3 p.m. CST on Jan. 28. Duke Keith will describe the action for both games on 600 ESPN El Paso. The contests will also be live streamed on CUSA.tv (subscription required).

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Gallery+Story: Miners Counter Panther Rally, Down FIU 72-68

With their next three C-USA games away from El Paso, the UTEP Miners badly needed a win on Saturday night.  And they got it against FIU, as Isiah Osborne scored 21 points in a 72-68 victory.

UTEP (7-11, 2-4 C-USA) turned the ball over only seven times against an FIU team that led C-USA in steals coming in (8.2 spg).  The Panthers had only one steal and Brian Beard Jr., who was third nationally in steals entering the contest (3.4 spg), had zero.

“That’s the stat of the night because we talked about it all day yesterday and today,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said.   “It was such a poor performance at Southern Miss [on Jan. 4] turning the ball over, and that’s what they do.  They create turnovers.  We knew Beard was really aggressive and leads Conference USA in steals.  We put a big emphasis on our point guards with two hands on the ball and taking care of the ball.  Our big guys protected the ball inside their body so that was helpful.”

The Miners made their free throws (21-for-30, 70 percent), and the Panthers didn’t (14-for-30, 46.7 percent).  And UTEP, minus freshman forward Tirus Smith who has a knee injury, outrebounded FIU 43-40.

The Miners still struggled defensively in the second half when the Panthers shot 59.4 percent and outscored them 50-42.  But they were able to hold on, going 19-for-26 from the charity stripe over the final 20 minutes.

“It’s really amazing, 18 points we give up in the first half and 50 in the second,” Johnson said.  “It’s a recurring theme and that’s a problem that we really have to get corrected.  With that said, I’m really pleased with the win obviously.  The thing is, seven turnovers for us, we made our free throws and we actually outrebounded somebody for a change.  So that was great.”

UTEP got off to a great start, leading 13-2.  The Miners were up 30-18 at halftime as Paul Thomas had a big first half with nine points.  FIU heated up in the second half.  A 13-0 run by the Panthers erased a 45-33 deficit and gave them their first lead, 46-45, on a layup by Beard with 9:35 to go.  After the teams traded baskets, the Miners scored five in a row to regain the lead, 52-48.

The game was tied 53-all at the six-minute mark when UTEP put together a 10-0 run and surged in front 63-53.  UTEP was firmly in control the rest of the way.

Osborne did most of his damage driving to the basket and finished 7-for-10 from the line.  He added seven rebounds.  Evan Gilyard scored 14 points.  Omega Harris and Thomas had 10 each.  And Trey Wade was a stat stuffer with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in 27 minutes.

Matt Willms also had eight boards along with two blocks for UTEP.

“Isiah Osborne was big-time and Evan Gilyard was big-time,” Johnson said.  ““I thought Isiah exploited some things and created some mismatches.  He was really, really good.  We’re starting to see a guy emerge in Isiah Osborne.

“Trey Wade gave us a big, big lift.  We’re trying to get him to defend better and I thought he tried tonight.  Omega is a solid, solid player.  Omega has gotten out of control at times in key moments in key games and second halves, and I don’t think he did tonight.  I’m so proud of him for that.  And Matt was just excellent.  When we really needed a basket we got it down there on the block to him and he finished.  Just a great team win actually.”

Michael Douglas and Hassan Hussein led FIU (8-10, 2-3 C-USA) with 19 points each.

The Miners will play at UTSA next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. MT as they tip-off the three-game C-USA road swing.

Gallery by Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post

Middle Tennessee Melts Miners at Home 54-45

Zuzanna Puc came off the bench to score 16 points while Jordan Alexander added 12 but visiting Middle Tennessee rode the hot hand of Anna Jones (30 points) to a 54-45 conquest of UTEP at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.

The Blue Raiders (10-7, 2-2 C-USA led 23-22 with 8:57 to play in the third quarter before they peeled off 15 straight points to put the Miners (11-6, 2-2 C-USA) in a 16-point hole (38-22) with 2:35 to play in the frame. UTEP, as has been the case all year, proved to be a resilient club by cutting that deficit in half (43-37) with 6:43 remaining in regulation. Jones, though, nailed one of her eight triples in the contest to end the 15-5 run and the Orange and Blue could get no closer than seven the rest of the way.

“I just thought that they had a really good game plan for us defensively all over the place,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I’m extremely proud of our team. I thought we went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the conference. The resiliency of this team should never be in question because we gave ourselves a chance to win. We are going to go back, watch the film and figure out a way to get better.”

UTEP actually shot a better overall field-goal percentage (18-44, 40.9%) than Middle Tennessee (16-46, 34.8%) but the visitors made up for that by drilling 12 triples to UTEP’s one and winning the boards (34-28). The Blue Raiders also had a 12-0 advantage for second-chance points.

The Miners’ two leading scorers (Tamara Seda and Najala Howell) were held to a combined six points, with Middle Tennessee really clamping down on the duo. That led to some opportunities for Puc, who drained 8-11 from the floor to key the charge offensively for UTEP. Alexander also hit double digits in scoring, aided by going 6-9 at the charity stripe, while Faith Cook pitched in seven points and four assists.

Ultimately the difference in the game came down to Jones, who had a career day. She entered the game contributing 2.4 points per game and had made 7-39 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range on the season. Jones then proceeded to drill 8-13 from beyond-the-arc and 10-17 overall for the 30-point outburst.

Middle Tennessee jumped out to a 7-2 lead with 4:53 to play in the first half. UTEP tightened things up defensively, holding the Blue Raiders scoreless the remainder of the frame. At the other end the Miners found some cracks in the vaunted Middle Tennessee defense to peel off five straight points and tie the tilt at seven through 10 minutes of action. Jordan Alexander hit a jumper and later split a pair of free throws before Cook found Katarina Zec for a fastbreak lay-up.

The Miners scored back-to-back baskets to open the second quarter, making it a 9-0 run wrapped around the break that gave them a four-point cushion (11-7). The visitors struck back with consecutive triples to regain the lead, and eventually pushed it to 20-15 with 3:20 left in the half. The Orange and Blue pitched a shutout the rest of the period while getting two from throws from Alexander and a pair by Zec to cut the deficit to one (20-19) heading to halftime.

The teams traded baskets at the onset of the third quarter before Middle Tennessee tallied 15 straight points to surge out by 16 (38-22) with 1:30 to play in the frame. UTEP ended the scoreless drought of more than six minutes when it got two free throws from Alexander. After Middle Tennessee split a pair of charity stripe tosses, Cook sunk a three and Howell hit a pull-up jumper to trim the deficit to 10 (39-29) heading to the fourth quarter.

The Miners refused to quit, and after an up-and-under lay-up by Alexander they trailed by just six (43-37) with 6:43 to play. The Blue Raiders came down where Jones connected on her seventh triple of the tilt. UTEP continued to fight down the stretch and was within seven (46-39) after a jumper by Cook. Incredibly enough, Jones delivered her eighth and final 3-pointer of the contest to reinstate a double-digit margin for the visitors and seal the Miners’ fate.

UTEP will return to action when it wraps up its three-game homestand against Florida Atlantic at 7 p.m. MST Thursday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids and may be purchased by calling 915-747-5234

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Gallery+Story: Florida Atlantic Sinks Miners 73-66

Ronald Delph had 12 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots, and Florida Atlantic crushed UTEP on the boards in a 73-66 win over the Miners on Thursday at the Haskins Center.

The Owls (7-9, 1-3 C-USA) outrebounded UTEP 49-33 and outscored the Miners 44-32 in the second half.

“Sixteen extra possessions in one game,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said of the rebounding differential. “And it really wasn’t a fast game. It was pretty much a halfcourt game. So 16 extra possessions that you give to them, and you can’t overcome that. You’ve got to shoot 90 percent from the field. You’ve got to play really, really well.”

The Miners shot 41.1 percent to the Owls’ 37.9. But Florida Atlantic had a 16-0 edge in second chance points, and outscored UTEP 34-18 in the paint.

In the second half, the rebounding difference was 27-15.

“We work our butts off every day in blocking out, rebound, three-man rebounding drills,” Johnson said. “We’re not a particularly physical team. We’re more of a finesse team. They just crushed us and they deserved to win. They outplayed us down the stretch. We had a nine-point lead evaporate very quickly. And it was really a result of not rebounding the ball.”

UTEP (6-11, 1-4 C-USA) led 34-29 at the half. The Miners took a seven-point lead (39-32) on a three-pointer by Paul Thomas with 18:27 remaining. Then it started to unravel. The Owls tied it at 39 on a jumper by Jailyn Ingram with 16:05 to go. They took the lead for good on a jumper by Delph at the 14-minute mark, which broke a 44-44 tie.

Leading 51-48 about midway through the second half, Florida Atlantic made its move. A 10-0 run extended the lead to 61-48. The Miners got back in it behind Evan Gilyard, who scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. At one point he made three consecutive threes to slice the deficit to two (61-59) with 3:48 to go. But UTEP couldn’t get any closer.

Gilyard finished 7-for-13 from the field, 3-for-5 from three and 3-for-4 from the line. Omega Harris added 11 points for the Miners.

“We really wanted to get the ball to Matt Willms down low, and we did quite a bit,” Johnson said. “He’s got to get a little more powerful down there. We tried to get it inside to Tirus [Smith] and Paul as much as possible. If you’re going to go inside all night long, you’ve got to make some shots. I think we got it in there a pretty good amount and just came up empty too often.”

Florida Atlantic shot 32.3 percent in the first half, 42.9 percent in the second.

“It seems to be an ongoing theme that when our defense is away from our bench that we don’t guard as well,” Johnson said. “And when they’re in front of our bench and we’re yelling instructions, it’s a little better. In the first half, they had 29 and [they] get 44 in the second.”

Justin Massey led Florida Atlantic with 18 points.

The Miners will host FIU on Saturday at 7 p.m. as they wrap up the two-game homestand.

Gallery by Steven Cottingham – El Paso Herald-Post

Seda’s Eighth Double-double Powers UTEP Past Charlotte 67-58

Tamara Seda recorded her eight double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) of the year and UTEP used a huge third quarter (23-6) to down Charlotte, 67-58, in its Conference USA home opener at the Don Haskins Center Thursday afternoon.

The 49ers (6-10, 2-1 C-USA) led the Miners (11-5, 2-1 C-USA) 25-10 with 6:18 to play in the first half but UTEP wrapped a 36-10 run around halftime to surge into the lead (46-35). Charlotte then tried to play catch-up, cutting the deficit to four on a three separate occasions but the Miners were able to counter every challenge.

The 15-point comeback ties as the fifth-largest rally in program history.

“I don’t know what happened in the first quarter, we just weren’t ready to play,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “But I was so proud of our team because we were playing so bad in the first quarter but they just kept fighting, kept hanging around and kept playing. Credit to our kids for not losing their composure. Getting off to a rough start is scary because you don’t know if you’re going to pick it back up but this team I don’t know why I worry about their resiliency because they’re as tough as they come. They showed that again today.”

Najala Howell (16 points) and Zuzanna Puc (12 points) joined Seda in Double figures for scoring while Faith Cook added nine points and six assists and Katarina Zec pitched in seven points and four helpers. UTEP enjoyed its highest-scoring second half (44) of the season while also setting campaign highs for steals (11).

The Miners connected on 43.4 percent (23-53), won the boards (39-30) and forced 17 Charlotte turnovers that led to 18 points. The 49ers were held to 39.3 percent (22-56) shooting, with Laia Raventos (20 points) and Octavia Wilson (11 points) keying the charge for the visitors.

The visitors came ready to play, bolting out to an early nine-point lead (14-5) with 5:16 to play in the first quarter. Howell drilled a pull-up triple to make it a six-point contest (14-8) with 3:17 left in the frame. Neither squad could get anything going over the next couple of minutes before Wilson sunk a jumper late in the quarter to make it 18-10 in favor of the visitors heading to the second quarter.

Charlotte opened up the second quarter on 7-0 run to put the Miners in a 15-point hole (25-10) with 6:18 to play in the half. The deficit was 14 (26-12) with 4:21 remaining before the Orange and Blue started to make their move with a 9-0 push. Jordan Jenkins got things going with a triple, which was followed by a lay-up by Puc.

After the Miners got another stop, Seda was fouled and calmly converted a pair of tosses at the charity stripe. Puc closed the surge with a fastbreak lay-up off the feed from Zec. The 49ers halted it with a free throw but Puc nailed another jumper to reduce the deficit to four. Charlotte secured a six-point lead (29-23) at the half thanks to a baseline jumper from Wilson in the waning seconds of the quarter.

Charlotte’s Amaya Ransom buried a triple to start the third quarter on a high note for the visitors but it was practically all UTEP the rest of the frame. The Miners countered with an 18-1 run, which was a part of the aforementioned 36-10 surge, to vault into the lead at 41-33. UTEP’s advantage ballooned to 11 (46-35) heading to the fourth quarter.

To their credit the 49ers didn’t quit but rather tallied the first seven points of the fourth quarter to creep within four (46-42). UTEP had a response, with Howell drilling a 3-pointer before converting a driving lay-up for a personal 5-0 run. The 49ers regrouped and were able to trim the margin to four (55-51) but Puc sunk a pair of free throws.

After Raventos hit a lay-up to once again make it a four-point contest (57-53), Howell tripled to reinstate a seven-point cushion. The 49ers didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.

UTEP will continue its three-game homestand when it plays host to C-USA preseason favorite Middle Tennessee at 12 p.m. MST Saturday.

The game will be broadcast locally in El Paso on 600 ESPN El Paso with Brandon Cohn and Traci Miller on the call, in addition to be live streamed through CUSA.tv.

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HP Sports In-Depth: Miners in Familiar Position, Seeking Midseason Turnaround

A year ago, the UTEP men’s basketball team started the season by winning two of its first 15 games. Then FIU and Florida Atlantic came to the Don Haskins Center, and a pair of inspirational, overtime victories spurred the Miners to a 13-4 finish.

Fast forward to 2018, and the Miners are in a similar position with a 6-10 mark through 16 contests. And lo and behold, here comes Florida Atlantic (Thursday) and FIU (Saturday) to El Paso as UTEP seeks another bounce back halfway through the campaign.

“It’s very important,” Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said of this week’s homestand. “We want to play well in front of our home fans. We’re back in the friendly confines of the Don. Our guys are eager to go win. We need to win, we need to get a ‘W’ under our belt and get back to defending the way we know we can defend. Two weeks ago, we were second in the league in field goal percentage defense and I think we’ve dropped to fourth or fifth. That in itself isn’t the end-all, but we’d like to be near the top in field goal percentage defense.”

UTEP is coming off a pair of losses at Southern Miss and LA Tech, but Johnson saw a lot of positives in the Miners’ first C-USA road trip of the season.

“We got really good play from Isiah Osborne,” he said. “Both he and Omega Harris played very well offensively at LA Tech. And at times we showed signs of playing really solid defense. Looking back at the film, they scored 97 points, which is uncharacteristic of our defense. But a lot of them were points off turnovers and points off of fouls. Our defense wasn’t as bad as I thought after looking at the film. We just fouled too much.”

A UTEP team that has made 11 or more three-pointers in three consecutive games for the first time in school history – and averaged 81 points in the process – is back to full strength with the return of graduate transfer Keith Frazier. The Dallas native, who missed the last three games on a leave of absence, is averaging a team-leading 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds this season.

“He’s back practicing with us and we’ll see how it goes,” Johnson said. “I think he’s in good spirits. I had a nice talk with him yesterday. I want to see what kind of condition he’s in. We have added a few things since he’s been gone, so we’ll have to incorporate him and see how well he picks up some of the new stuff that we’re doing.”

Florida Atlantic is the only winless team in C-USA play and stands 6-9 overall, 0-3 in the league. But the Owls dropped close contests to FIU (58-57) in Miami and Middle Tennessee (61-57) in Boca Raton. A trio of seniors – center Ronald Delph (13.2 ppg/8.8 rpg/1.9 bpg) and guards Gerdarius Troutman (12.9 ppg) and Justin Massey (12.6 ppg) – are the team’s leading scorers. Delph is coming off a 17-point, nine-rebound, four-block effort against league-leading Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

“They have probably the best center in our league and that’s where it starts with them,” Johnson said. “I know they’re going to play a real packed in defense. Troutman is a terrific shooter and Delph is a real presence at seven feet. I’ve watched teams and what they do to him. Middle Tennessee tried to double team him, and it wasn’t that effective. And teams try to play him straight up and that’s a problem. So we’ll have to address how we defend Delph.”

The Miners still have at least 15 games remaining, plenty of time to right the ship.

“Right now I just want to play well and get a couple [of wins],” Johnson said. “That’s my focus. I think that’s our team’s focus. It’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of games left. We need to play better this week and defend better.”

Thursday’s game will feature a halftime performance by “Acrodunk,” America’s favorite dunk team. Tickets, starting at just $8, are available by calling (915) 747-5234

***In Depth

ABOUT FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Florida Atlantic is 2-6 away from Boca Raton and 1-4 in true road games, with a win over Florida Gulf Coast (92-88) and losses to USF (60-59), Texas Tech (90-54), Minnesota (95-60) and FIU. The Owls have three starters and six letterwinners back from 2016-17 in their fourth year under the direction of coach Michael Curry. A trio of seniors — center Ronald Delph (13.2 ppg/8.8 rpg/1.9 bpg) and guards Gerdarius Troutman (12.9 ppg) and Justin Massey (12.6 ppg) — are the team’s leading scorers. Delph is third in C-USA in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots, and Troutman is fourth in free throw percentage (.882) and three-pointers made per game (2.6). Delph is coming off a 17-point, nine-rebound, four-block effort against league-leading Middle Tennessee on Saturday at FAU Arena.

SERIES HISTORY
UTEP leads the series 5-1. The Miners are 2-1 versus the Owls in El Paso. Florida Atlantic snapped UTEP’s eight-game C-USA win streak on Feb. 13, 2014, when Marquan Botley banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 71-69 victory.

THE LAST MEETING
UTEP held Florida Atlantic to 22 second-half points, and pulled away late for a 60-55 win over the Owls on Feb. 23, 2017 in Boca Raton. The Miners outscored the Owls 28-22 in the second half. They limited FAU to 33.3 percent (9-for-27) shooting, including 1-for-13 from three-point range, over the last 20 minutes.

Gerdarius Troutman, who scored 22 points and made six threes at UTEP on Jan. 14, had one field goal in each half and was 2-for-5 from the field, 0-for-3 from distance. Justin Massey, averaging 9.1 ppg, was 1-for-4 from the floor and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc. Adonis Filer scored 13 of his game-high 15 points in the second half for the Owls. UTEP led by as many as six points in the first half, but the Owls rallied to take a 33-32 lead into the locker room.

After the teams traded baskets to open the second stanza, the Miners went on an 8-2 run and built a 42-37 lead on a jumper by Kelvin Jones with 12:56 remaining. UTEP wouldn’t trail again, although there were some anxious moments when the Owls cut a seven-point deficit down to three (58-55) on two free throws by Filer with 56 seconds left. Troutman missed a three that could’ve tied it with 19 seconds left and, following a wild scramble for the loose ball, Omega Harris missed a breakaway dunk.

But Trey Touchet secured the key offensive rebound with 11 seconds remaining, and Jake Flaggert made two big free throws with six seconds left to push the lead back to five. The Miners outrebounded the Owls 32-30 as Dominic Artis (nine rebounds) and Harris (eight) combined for 17 boards. Artis scored seven of his team-high 12 points in the last five minutes, including a crucial three-pointer with 3:51 left that gave UTEP its biggest lead (56-49). He also provided a pivotal jumper with 1:11 to go on a strong move into the lane that put the Miners in front 58-53.

Harris scored 11 points, Matt Willms 10 and Jones added a career-high 10 with two steals in 15 minutes off the bench. His minutes were huge as the reigning Conference USA Player of the Week, Paul Thomas, was limited to 16 minutes due to foul trouble. Jones made 5-of-7 shots and the UTEP bench was a combined 8-for-10 from the floor.

LAST GAME
LA Tech ended the first half with a 9-0 run, and started the second half by making 11 of its first 12 shots. That proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs won in a shootout over the UTEP Miners, 97-88 on Saturday at the Thomas Assembly Center. During that stretch LA Tech outscored UTEP 37-20, negating a strong start and finish by the Miners.

Prior to the 9-0 run that ended the first half, the Miners led 38-33. At halftime they were down (42-38) but not out. The defensive intensity was lacking to start the second half, and before long the Bulldogs had pushed the four-point margin to double digits. For the second straight game, the Miners were torched in the second half as the Bulldogs shot 69.6 percent (16-for-23) from the field. That followed Southern Miss’ 74.1 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes two days earlier.

LA Tech led by as many as 13 points in the second half but the Miners came roaring back down the stretch. They cut an 11-point deficit (84-73) with 3:59 remaining down to five (90-85) on a three-pointer by Evan Gilyard with 1:21 to go. The Bulldogs scored the next five points, including a crucial three-pointer by Derric Jean with 22 seconds left. Jean scored a career-high tying 20 points for the Bulldogs, who were missing two starters in DaQuan Bracey and Joniah White. Jean came in averaging 9.3 points per game.

The short-handed Bulldogs also got overachieving performances from Jy’lan Washington (19 points), Amorie Archibald (15 points), Anthony Duruji (13 points) and Oliver Powell (11 points). All came in averaging 5.9 ppg or less. Archibald, Duruji and Washington’s scoring totals were career highs. The Miners’ Isiah Osborne had a career night of his own (25 points), making 7-of-11 shots, 5-of-7 threes and 6-of-7 free throws. Omega Harris added 21 points for the Miners.

CAN THEY DO IT AGAIN?
A year ago, the Miners stood 0-3 in C-USA play coming off losses at LA Tech and Southern Miss. They turned their season around by beating FIU and Florida Atlantic, both in overtime, at the Haskins Center. UTEP would go on to win 12 of its last 15 league games and tie for third place in C-USA with a 12-6 mark. This year, coming off an 0-2 road trip to Hattiesburg and Ruston and sporting a 1-3 league mark, the Miners will face the Owls and the Panthers in the DHC once more.

A GOOD MONTH
The Miners have been exceptional in Conference USA home games during the month of January, posting a 34-6 record with wins in 23 of their last 26 outings. UTEP was 3-0 in C-USA home games in January of last year, topping FIU (88-87 in double overtime), Florida Atlantic (66-65 in overtime) and UTSA (59-39).

MINERS 24-4 IN LAST 28 C-USA HOME GAMES
After splitting a couple of contests on their first C-USA homestand of the season, UTEP is 24-4 in its last 28 league games in the Haskins Center dating back to the 2014-15 season. The Miners are 80-20 all-time in C-USA home games since joining the league for the 2005-06 season.

EMERGING OFFENSE
After averaging 67.9 points per game during the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Miners are scoring at a 76.2 ppg clip in Conference USA action. UTEP has also raised its field goal percentage from .424 to .511 and its three-point percentage from .298 to .538. The Miners averaged over 70 points per game in league play five times during their first 12 years as a member of C-USA, with a high water mark of 77.3 ppg in 2015-16. UTEP is first in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage, and second in field goal percentage and three-pointers made per game (10.5) for league games only.

SCORING ON THE ROAD
UTEP has now scored 75 points or more in six of its last seven C-USA road games dating back to the 2016-17 season. The Miners totaled 163 points on their road trip to Southern Miss and LA Tech last week, their second-most in consecutive league road games since the 2010-11 season. UTEP put 173 points on the board at FIU (84) and Florida Atlantic (89) in February of 2016.

MINERS SCORE 88, SHOOT 56.4% IN LOSS
UTEP fell 97-88 at LA Tech on Saturday. The 88 points were the most scored by the Miners in a loss since Jan. 8, 2011 at UAB (100-97 setback in three overtimes). The last time UTEP dropped a regulation game when scoring 88 or more points was on Dec. 22, 2006 at home to Jackson State (100-97).

The last time the Miners scored 88 or more in a regulation road game, but came up on the short end of the scoreboard, was on March 1, 2001 at TCU (99-91). UTEP’s .564 field goal percentage at LA Tech was its second-best of the season behind a .578 effort in the opener versus Louisiana College. It was the Miners’ top shooting effort in a C-USA game since .673 at FIU on Feb. 25, 2017. The last time UTEP shot so well but came away with a loss was on Feb. 23, 2002 at Boise State, when it made 23-of-37 shots (62.2 percent) but sustained an 81-72 defeat.

37 THREES IN THREE GAMES
For the first time in school history, the Miners have made 11 or more three-point field goals in three consecutive games. UTEP hit 12 three-pointers versus Rice, 11 at Southern Miss and 14 at LA Tech. The 14 triples versus the Bulldogs are tied for the second-top total in school history. UTEP has made 15 three-pointers in a game three times, most recently at New Mexico on Dec. 7, 2016. The Miners have shot an astounding 37-for-61 (60.7 percent) from beyond the arc over the last three contests – including 24-for-32 (75 percent) in the second half.

SECOND-HALF SHOOTERS
The Miners have shot 62.6 percent (67-for-107) from the field and 66.7 percent (28-for-42) from three-point land in the second half of their four C-USA games. In the first half, they have shot 40.5 percent (47-for-116) from the floor and 38.9 percent (14-for-36) from outside. UTEP is averaging 30.3 points in the first half in C-USA play, and 46.0 ppg in the second half.

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