HATTIESBURG, MS. – The UTEP Miners will play only their second road game of the season – and first within Conference USA play – when they take on Southern Miss on Thursday at 6 p.m. MT. beIN Sports will televise the game from Reed Green Coliseum, where the Golden Eagles are 5-0 this season.
UTEP won its last five C-USA road games during the 2016-17 season but will bring a distinctly different cast of characters to Hattiesburg.
“It will be interesting to see how a lot of our new guys respond to being on the road,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “I don’t want to make too big of a deal about being on the road, because the court is the same length and the baskets are the same height. It will be a new experience for a lot of our guys, but at the end of the day it’s still a 40-minute game. You’ve got to go execute and do what we do well and continue to get better.”
The Miners (6-8) certainly executed in the second half of the Rice game on Saturday, outscoring the Owls 51-31 to square their C-USA mark at 1-1 with an 80-62 victory. Now they’ll go up against a Southern Miss (7-8) team that has lost four straight and relies on a lineup dominated by guards.
“I see a lot of quickness,” Johnson said. “They’re not particularly big, but they play four guards together and they’re really, really fast and quick. They try to get out and run. They’re creating a lot of turnovers. And so we’ve got to take care of the ball and value the ball, which we’ve been doing. We’ve been improving in that area. So that will be a priority, taking care of the ball and guarding the drive.”
The Miners have committed 10 turnovers or fewer in five of their last six games. That will be key on Thursday as Southern Miss rates sixth nationally in turnover margin. The Golden Eagles commit only 9.7 turnovers per game (also sixth in the country) while forcing 15.5 per outing.
Southern Miss starts a lineup of 6-7 Kevin Holland, 6-7 Eddie Davis III, 6-4 Dominic Magee, 6-2 Cortez Edwards and 5-10 Tyree Griffin. Edwards averages a team-leading 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds and also has a team-high 32 steals.
Oklahoma State transfer Griffin averages 14.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and is dishing out 5.8 assists per game to pace the squad. Another transfer, Magee (10.1 ppg/5.7 rpg) helped Grand Canyon to a 27-7 mark during the 2015-16 season.
“We always try to give our guys four or five keys to winning,” Johnson said. “For this one it will be our ability to guard the screen and roll. They are playing four guards together with one big guy, so matching up with them with bigger guys is tough. They’re really a drive-oriented team and being able to contain the drive will be a real key.”
The Miners’ longest C-USA road win streak is seven games twice, during the 2009-10 season and over the course of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns. If they’re going to extend the current streak, they’ll have to do so at a couple of places where they haven’t tasted victory in a while.
UTEP hasn’t won at Southern Miss since 2010, and at LA Tech (Saturday’s opponent) since 2004. But anything can happen when the ball is thrown up on Thursday night.
“[Getting a win] would be huge,” Johnson said. “We’re 1-1 right now, real close to being 2-0. We need to go down and play very, very well. It would be huge to get a win or maybe two. I know our guys are ready to go. There’s no question about that. They’re eager to go on the road and try to get a win.”
***Miners In Depth
ON THE AIR
beIN Sports has televisi0n coverage. The English radio broadcast is available on KOFX 92.3 FM with Jon Teicher (play-by-play) and Steve Yellen (color) calling the action.
A Spanish radio broadcast is available on ESPN Deportes 1650 AM, with Omar Ropele on the mike.
ABOUT SOUTHERN MISS
The Golden Eagles are riding a four-game losing streak but return to the friendly confines of Reed Green Coliseum, where they are 5-0 this season with victories over SUNO (79-69), Blue Mountain (90-46), Rust (109-61), Troy (89-71) and William Carey (75-68). Southern Miss will be playing its first home game since Dec. 16. The Golden Eagles are led by junior guard Cortez Edwards, who averages a team-leading 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. Edwards is shooting 50 percent from the field and 74.5 percent from the line and also has a team-high 32 steals. Oklahoma State transfer Tyree Griffin averages 14.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and is dishing out 5.8 assists per game to pace the squad. Griffin, a 5-10 guard, started 15 games for the Cowboys as a sophomore in 2015-16 and scored in double figures four times. Another transfer guard, Dominic Magee, helped Grand Canyon to a 27-7 mark during the 2015-16 season. He is averaging 10.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg this season. Junior guard Kevin Holland (7.6 ppg) is the son of former UTEP Assistant Coach James Holland. The Golden Eagles lead Conference USA in turnover margin (+5.7) and assist/turnover ratio (1.5). Southern Miss averages only 9.7 turnovers per game, tops in the league with Old Dominion (10.8) second. The guard-dominated Golden Eagles have struggled on the boards with a rebound margin of -3.9 that rates 12th in C-USA. FIU is 13th (-4.2) and UTEP 14th (-4.2). Edwards ranks second in C-USA in steals (2.1 spg), and Griffin is second in assist/turnover ratio (2.6).
Southern Miss’ Doc Sadler was the head coach at UTEP for two seasons (2004-06). He directed the Miners to a 48-18 record with berths in the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and the NIT in 2006. Sadler led UTEP to the 2005 Western Athletic Conference tournament title. He was also an assistant at UTEP under coach Billy Gillispie during the 2003-04 season, when the Miners went 24-8 and made the first of back-to-back appearances in the “Big Dance.” Southern Miss Director of Basketball Operations Omar Thomas starred on the 2003-04 and 2004-05 UTEP NCAA Tournament teams. The Panola Junior College transfer averaged 15.5 ppg as a junior and 20.5 ppg as a senior, leading the squad in scoring both years. Thomas was second team All-WAC in 2004, first team in 2005 and was All-WAC Tournament both years.
UTEP owns a 15-12 advantage in the series, but the Golden Eagles have won eight of the last 12 matchups and seven of the last 10. The Miners are 12-10 versus the Golden Eagles since joining Conference USA. UTEP is 3-9 all-time at Reed Green Coliseum with losses in its last six visits. The Golden Eagles have had a penchant for making big comebacks versus the Miners on their home floor. UTEP led by 13 with 15:40 remaining on Feb. 16, 2011 (64-51 loss), by nine with 18:19 remaining on Feb. 22, 2014 (45-39 loss), by nine with 18:19 remaining on Feb. 22, 2014 (77-68 loss), by 24 with 11:39 remaining on Feb. 28, 2015 (63-60 loss), and by 15 midway through the first half on Jan. 28, 2016 (71-58 loss). The Miners last won at Southern Miss on Feb. 24, 2010 (59-56).
THE LAST MEETING
Dominic Artis scored six of his 20 points during a 16-0 run early in the second half as UTEP thumped Southern Miss, 80-50, on Feb. 11, 2017 in the Don Haskins Center. The Miners made 12 three-pointers led by Artis, who was 6-for-9 from long range. UTEP finished 12-for-23 from beyond the arc and shot 52.9 percent from the field on a night where Southern Miss’ game plan was to take the Miners’ inside game away. The Miners led 41-31 at the half despite scoring just four points in the paint. They were 7-for-14 from beyond the arc over the opening 20 minutes. Southern Miss cut it to nine (45-36) on a layup by Raheem Watts with 16:48 to play before UTEP went on the 16-0 run to take command. In their last three home games versus the Golden Eagles, the Miners have had runs of 17-0 (2015), 13-0 (2016) and 16-0 (2017). Artis had 10 assists and six rebounds. Omega Harris scored 17 points and Jake Flaggert hit three threes on a night where Matt Willms and Paul Thomas combined for 13 points, including four in the first half.
Facing a new heap of adversity after losing leading scorer Keith Frazier to an indefinite leave of absence, the Miners turned in perhaps their most complete effort of the season in an 80-62 ambush of Rice on Saturday in the Haskins Center. UTEP dominated the Owls over the final 20 minutes. The Miners shot 71.4 percent in the second half, when they made 8-of-10 threes and outrebounded the Owls 18-13. UTEP outscored Rice by the score of 51-31 over the final 20 minutes, erasing a 31-29 deficit at the intermission. With Frazier out, the Miners needed all hands on deck and they got contributions up and down the roster. With Omega Harris (five points), Paul Thomas (four) and Matt Willms (four) combining for 13 points, three newcomers – Kobe Magee, Isiah Osborne, Trey Wade – all tallied at least 12 points each. They combined for 43 of UTEP’s 80 points, connecting on 17-of-25 shots and 9-of-13 three pointers. Wade led the way with 16 points (7-for-11 FGs) and seven rebounds. Osborne scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and Magee added 12 on a perfect night (4-for-4) both from the floor and from distance. All 10 players who saw action scored, with Tirus Smith adding nine points and Trey Touchet eight. UTEP trailed 39-34 when Rice’s Connor Cashaw hit a three pointer with 17:32 remaining. After that, the Miners went on a 22-6 run over the next nine minutes to charge ahead 56-45. Osborne scored nine points during the run. Rice cut the deficit to eight (56-48) on a layup by Miles Lester with 7:52 to play. UTEP put it away with a 20-8 spurt, pushing the lead to 20. UTEP shot 55.4 percent, its best figure since the season opener versus Louisiana College (57.8 percent). The Miners made 12-of-19 threes (63.2 percent).
FRESHMEN LEAD THE WAY
The Miners received a season-high 38 points from four freshmen (Evan Gilyard, Kobe Magee, Tirus Smith, Trey Wade) in Saturday’s win over Rice. The previous highest-scoring game by the rookies this season was 31 points against Incarnate Word on Dec. 19. Gilyard, Magee, Smith and Wade combined to make 15-of-23 field goal attempts and 6-of-9 three point tries versus Rice. Two freshmen (Magee 12 points, Wade 16 points) scored in double figures for the second time in 2017-18; in the aforementioned Incarnate Word game, Smith scored 15 points and Magee added 12. UTEP is 3-0 this season when Magee scores in double digits.
WADE’S BREAKOUT NIGHT
It’s been a difficult stretch for freshman guard Trey Wade, who missed a handful of games while being with his family following the passing of his grandmother. But since returning to the lineup for the C-USA opener against North Texas he has made his presence felt, averaging 10.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg while shooting 60 percent (9-for-15) from the field. Wade led the Miners in scoring for the third time this season versus Rice with a UTEP-high 16 points.
Sophomore guard Isiah Osborne battled strep throat before busting out for a 15-point night off the bench versus Rice on Saturday. This came after taking a total of two shots in the previous four games (Osborne did not play against Incarnate Word and North Texas). The University of Windsor import made 6-of-10 shots and 3-of-5 three-pointers versus Rice. It marked his second-best field goal percentage of the season; he hit 7-of-10 shots in the opener against Louisiana College. UTEP is 3-0 this season when Osborne scores in double figures.
BENCH OUTSCORES STARTERS
For the fourth time this season — and the second time in as many Conference USA games — UTEP’s bench (42 points) outscored the starters (38 points) against Rice on Saturday. This also happened versus Appalachian State (starters 32 points, bench 40 points), Lamar (starters 24 points, bench 28 points) and North Texas (starters 25 points, bench 37 points). UTEP’s bench is averaging 39.5 points in C-USA play and has outscored opponents’ reserves 79-31.
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 and North Texas), Evan Gilyard (Washington State), Kobe Magee (New Mexico), Isiah Osborne (Louisiana College & Rice), Tirus Smith (Incarnate Word), Trey Wade (Louisiana College, Lamar & Rice) and Matt Willms (North Texas).
UTEP has averaged 80.8 points per game in its six victories this season, as five players have averaged at least 10 points per game (Keith Frazier 16.0 ppg, Omega Harris 15.8 ppg, Trey Wade 13.0 ppg, Isiah Osborne 10.2 ppg, Paul Thomas 10.0 ppg). The Miners have shot 50.3 percent from the field (172-for-342) in their wins and have a positive (+1.0) rebound margin. They have also forced 90 turnovers (15.0 avg.) while coughing up the basketball only 66 times (11.0 avg.). Another stat that jumps out at you in the Miners’ six victories is a 15-3 advantage in blocked shots, helping lead to a .372 (127-for-341) defensive field goal percentage.
The Miners are 5-1 when they tally 70 points or more this season, and 1-7 when they score less than 70. They are also 4-1 when four or more players score in double figures, and 2-7 when three or fewer do so.
SOLID ON “D”
UTEP ranks second in Conference USA in scoring defense (66.9 ppg) behind Old Dominion (60.8 ppg), and second in field goal percentage defense (.401) behind the Monarchs (.379). The Miners are next-to-last in the league in three-point field goal percentage defense (.370), although that number has come down somewhat over the last four outings (.327, 32-for-98). After opponents averaged 9.6 made three pointers (86 total) over the first nine games, UTEP has trimmed that number to 8.2 per contest (41 total) over the last five games. The Miners have yielded fewer than 70 points in six straight games (63.2 ppg during that span); last year they had an eight-game run from Jan. 14-Feb. 11.
FRESHMEN PG’S PLAYING BIG ROLE IN BALL SECURITY
The Miners have committed 10 turnovers or fewer in five of the last six games, and that has coincided with freshmen point guards Evan Gilyard and Kobe Magee doing a better job of protecting the basketball. In the five games with 10 turnovers or less (Washington State, Howard, North Dakota State, North Texas, Rice), Gilyard has played a total of 76 minutes with one turnover. During the same stretch, Magee has played 131 minutes with one turnover. In two conference games, UTEP’s three primary point guards — Gilyard, Magee and Trey Touchet — have combined to play 117 minutes with one turnover as Magee (47 minutes) and Touchet (37 minutes) have both been error-free against league foes.
WINNING THE BOARDS
UTEP has outrebounded back-to-back opponents (North Texas & Rice) after getting outboarded in the previous six games. The Miners haven’t won the battle of the boards in three consecutive games this season. UTEP’s rebound margin in C-USA play is +2.5; versus non-conference opponents, it was -5.3. Not surprisingly, the Miners have been a much better rebounding team with 7’1” Matt Willms on the floor in 2017-18. In the seven games he has played, UTEP has a rebound margin of +0.8 (36.4-35.6). In the seven games he has missed, the rebound margin is -9.3 (33.0-42.3).
MINERS AIMING FOR MORE FOUL SHOTS
Not surprisingly, UTEP is 4-1 in 2017-18 when shooting more free throws than its opponents and 2-7 when taking fewer foul shots. The Miners have gone to the line 11 times in each of the last three contests, and have been outshot 62-33 at the stripe during that span. Omega Harris leads UTEP in free throws made (36) and attempted (46) this season.
Three members of this year’s team have played in 100 games for the Miners. Jake Flaggert leads the way with 106 contests, while Omega Harris and Matt Willms have both appeared in 102 games.
HARRIS ON THE UTEP LISTS
Omega Harris ranks 19th on UTEP’s all-time scoring list with 1,203 points. His next target is John Bohannon, who scored 1,204 points from 2010-14 and sits in 18th place. Also within striking distance are Omar Thomas (17th, 1,211 points), Gary Brewster (16th, 1,213 points) and Jason Williams (15th, 1,225 points). Harris is fourth in three-point field goals (144) and 13th in steals (107). Harris has logged 3,203 minutes in a Miner uniform, putting him 13th in school annals.
HARRIS’ CAREER HIGH
Omega Harris scored a career-high 28 points versus New Mexico on Dec. 2. The 28 points were the most by a UTEP player since Lee Moore tallied 30 against FIU in the Conference USA Tournament on March 9, 2016. Harris matched his career-best with nine field goals made against the Lobos. Harris picked up the 12th 20-point game of his college career versus UNM. The Miners are 6-0 in the last six games that Harris has scored 20 points or more (dating back to the 2016-17 season), compared to 2-4 in the first six games that he did so.
Matt Willms has collected 775 points, 462 rebounds and 110 blocks in his UTEP career. He is tied for sixth place in school history in blocked shots with John Tofi. Willms has blocked 12 shots in only seven games this season, and tied his career-high with five versus Boise State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. His career field goal percentage of .572 (306-for-535) would rank third in the UTEP record book behind Cedrick Lang (.581) and Brandon Wolfram (.579).
Grad transfer Keith Frazier has led the Miners in points and rebounds four times this season, including three times in his last five contests. 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 was the Miners’ top rebounder in seven of the first 13 contests. Overall he leads the team with 14.5 ppg and ranks second with 6.2 rpg.
UTEP has received 57.3 percent of its points (548-of-957), 58.4 percent of its rebounds (262-of-449) and 51.4 percent of its assists (76-of-148) from players in their first year wearing the Orange and Blue uniform. A newcomer has led the Miners in scoring in 11 of 14 games, and a freshman has been UTEP’s top scorer in four contests.
VETS CARRYING THE LOAD
Including grad transfer Keith Frazier, UTEP has received 46.9 percent of its points (449-of-957), 40.8 percent of its rebounds (183-of-449) and 41.9 percent of its assists (62-of-148) from players who are in their final year in the Orange and Blue. The Miners’ top three scorers are Frazier (14.5 ppg), senior Matt Willms (11.7 ppg) and senior Omega Harris (11.6 ppg). If that holds up, UTEP’s top three scorers would be seniors for the first time since 2010-11 when the top five scorers (Randy Culpepper, Christian Polk, Jeremy Williams, Julyan Stone, Claude Britten) were in their final year of eligibility.
UTEP has utilized 10 different starting lineups in the first 14 games of the season. Omega Harris and Paul Thomas are the only players to start every game. All 11 scholarship players have made starts in 2017-18 after nine players started last season. Florida Gulf Coast led the nation with 11 starting lineup combinations through the games of Dec. 30. UTEP, Bryant and UT Martin were tied for second.
While Jake Flaggert has traditionally been known as the Miners’ resident “charge drawer,” a freshman duo has gotten into the act in 2017-18. Tirus Smith (nine) and Evan Gilyard (eight) lead the squad in charges drawn. Together they have accounted for 70.8 percent (17-of-24) of the Miners’ charges drawn this season.
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.
By outscoring Louisiana College 32-0 to start the game in the season opener, UTEP came within two points of tying an NCAA record. On Nov. 29, 1998, Seton Hall led Kean 34-0 to set the standard.
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.