After posting consecutive victories for the first time this season, UTEP (4-13, 2-3 C-USA) will attempt to sweep a three-game league homestand on Saturday when UTSA (9-9, 4-1 C-USA) invades the Don Haskins Center at 7 p.m.
The Roadrunners have been one of the league’s biggest surprises in their first year under coach Steve Henson. UTSA, which has yet to lose at the Convocation Center in San Antonio (8-0), pulled a shocker on Jan. 7 when it won at LA Tech, 69-68.
“They are playing well,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “[Coach Henson] has done a great job. They’re a really terrific rebounding team. They are very good defensively. That is where they have made their biggest improvement. They have added personnel, which always helps.”
UTSA is second in C-USA in three-point field goal defense (.322), third in rebound margin (+5.1 rpg), and fourth in scoring defense (68.2 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.415).
Junior forward Jeff Beverly averages a team-leading 15.9 ppg along with 6.3 rpg. Senior guard Nick Billingsley chips in with 11.1 ppg and tops the team with 24 three-point field goals.
“They’ve got an outstanding player [Beverly] who’s playing at a first team All-League level right now,” Floyd said. “They’ve got a point guard [Giovanni De Nicolao] that is emerging as a very good player. It’s a good team. They thoroughly whipped us in the last ballgame. We had a hard time scoring and we’re going to hope for improvement.”
The Miners lost at UTSA on Jan. 1 (67-55), but they’ve won 18 of their last 19 C-USA home games.
UTEP rose from a tie for 12th place in C-USA to a tie for eighth place following last week’s overtime victories over FIU and Florida Atlantic. They’ll try to square their league mark at 3-3 against the Roadrunners.
The Miners have gotten solid play from sophomore forward Paul Thomas in league action. He is averaging 11.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, shooting 64.9 percent from the field.
“Paul has been our most improved player this year,” Floyd said. “He has just gotten better. He is playing with confidence. He’s not turning the ball over. He is starting to rebound it a little bit. He is finishing shots around the basket that he didn’t finish earlier. He is gaining some confidence from 15 feet.”
UTEP senior guard Dominic Artis is nine points shy of 1,000 for his career. He is on pace to become the first player in school history to tally 400 points, 150 rebounds, 150 assists and 50 steals in a season.
“His biggest strength has been his defensive rebounding all year long,” Floyd said. “We would love to see him shoot the ball from the three and from the two and create plays for others in order to move this team forward. We’re going to play off of him. The ball is in his hands an awful lot. You have to have great decision-making and sometimes you have to defer. I trust that he’s going to play well the second half of the year.”
The Miners are on a roll and hope to keep it going on Saturday. They are beginning a demanding stretch with their next six games versus teams that were a combined 24-8 in the league entering play on Thursday.
The crowd played a major role in the team getting back on track last weekend.
“We just appreciate the fans that have been here and their support,” Floyd said. “I think they saw two good basketball games last weekend. We know that those people will be back and we hope to build on that.”
Saturday is “Youth Sports Night.” Youth teams can purchase group tickets by calling 747-7450. UTEP single-game tickets are available by calling 747-5234. Saturday’s game will feature a special halftime recognition of UTEP football All-Americans Will Hernandez and Aaron Jones. Hernandez will be in attendance, and Jones will provide a video message as he continues to prep for the NFL Draft.
– After posting consecutive victories for the first time this season, UTEP (4-13, 2-3 C-USA) will attempt to sweep a three-game C-USA homestand on Saturday when UTSA (9-9, 4-1 C-USA) invades El Paso.
– The Miners lost at UTSA, 67-55, in their league opener on Jan. 1.
– UTEP is seeking its first three-game win streak since Feb. 4-20, 2016 (six straight).
– The Miners are coming off back-to-back one-point overtime victories. UTEP topped FIU in double overtime (88-87) on Jan. 12 and Florida Atlantic in overtime (66-65) on Jan. 14. UTEP played consecutive overtime games for the first time since January of 1995, and scored consecutive overtime victories for the first time since the 1966 NCAA Tournament when it knocked off Cincinnati (78-76 OT) and Kansas (81-80 2OT) in succession.
– UTEP has registered consecutive one-point wins for only the second time in school history. The first time was on Feb. 20(beat New Mexico 68-67) and Feb. 25 (beat Wyoming 66-65) in 1971. Both of those games were played in El Paso.
– The Miners are 74-17 in C-USA home games. UTEP has won 18 of its last 19 league home games dating back to the 2014-15 season.
– The Miners have been particularly good in C-USA home games in the month of January, posting a 33-6 record with wins in 22 of their last 25 outings.
– UTEP is 45-12 in C-USA home games under coach Tim Floyd.
LONE STAR DOMINANCE
– UTEP is 28-2 in home games versus Conference USA Texas schools since joining the league for the 2005-06 season.
– The breakdown by opponent is as follows: SMU (8-0), Houston (7-1), Rice (8-1), UTSA (3-0) and North Texas (2-0).
– The Miners haven’t dropped a home game to a C-USA school from Texas since Feb. 29, 2012, when Rice spoiled the Miners’ “Senior Day” with a 68-61 triumph. The homecourt win streak over C-USA Texas schools stands at 11 games.
– The Roadrunners have been one of the league’s biggest surprises in their first year under the direction of coach Steve Henson.
– UTSA, which has yet to lose at the Convocation Center in San Antonio this season (8-0), pulled a shocker on Jan. 7 when it won at LA Tech, 69-68. The Roadrunners have also beaten UTEP (67-55), Florida Atlantic (68-63) and FIU (57-55) at home and lost at Southern Miss (77-59).
– Henson is a former long-time assistant to Lon Kruger. His coaching background includes stints at Illinois (1999-00), South Florida (2003-04), UNLV (2004-11) and Oklahoma (2011-16). Henson also was an advance scout and assistant coach with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Henson spent seven seasons in the NBA as a player with Milwaukee, Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland and Detroit.
– Junior forward Jeff Beverly, a transfer from McLennan [Texas] CC, averages a team-leading 15.9 ppg along with 6.3 rpg. The 6-6, 250-pound Beverly was a walk-on tight end with the UTSA football team during the fall 2015 semester.
– Senior guard Nick Billingsley chips in with 11.1 ppg for the Roadrunners and tops the team with 24 three-point field goals. He is shooting 38.1 percent from beyond the arc.
– UTSA is second in C-USA in three-point field goal defense (.322), third in rebound margin (+5.1 rpg), and fourth in scoring defense (68.2 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.415).
– UTEP leads the series 9-3. The Miners are 5-2 versus the Roadrunners since they joined the league for the 2013-14 season.
– UTEP is 6-1 versus the Roadrunners in the Sun City. The Miners hosted UTSA during the 1981-82 (won 65-37), 1997-98 (won 71-62), 1998-99 (won 78-61), 2011-12 (lost 73-64), 2013-14 (won 81-62), 2014-15 (won 69-62) and 2015-16 (won 81-74) seasons.
THE LAST MEETING
– Nick Billingsley scored 17 points in a reserve role, leading UTSA to a 67-55 win over UTEP in the Conference USA opener for both schools on Jan. 1 at the Convocation Center.
– The Miners took a 38-37 lead, their last of the game, on a layup by Dominic Artis with 14:40 remaining. But they went cold after that, managing only two field goals over the next nine minutes. UTSA wasn’t much more prolific offensively during the stretch, outscoring the Miners 13-4 to go ahead 50-42.
– Artis cut the deficit down to five (50-45) on a three-pointer with 5:29 left. But the Roadrunners scored the next seven points, including five from Lucas O’Brien, to put it away.
– UTEP shot 44.7 percent for the game, but that number cooled off to 40.9 percent in the second half. The Miners scored nine field goals in the final 20 minutes, but three of those came over the final 2:37, and all from Artis who scored 18 points.
– The Miners coughed up the ball 16 times, leading to 22 points for the home team. Besides UTSA turning it over only nine times, free throws were a difference-maker as the Roadrunners were 24-for-30 at the stripe and UTEP was 10-for-19, including 6-for-13 in the second half. The Miners made their last three free throws after starting the second half 3-for-10.
– Omega Harris scored 12 points. Paul Thomas had seven points and nine rebounds and Matt Willms added six points and eight boards. But the Miners lost the rebounding battle 34-32.
– O’Brien and Gino Littles scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, for UTSA.
LAST GAME: UTEP 66, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 65 (OT)
– Omega Harris scored 18 points, and hit the jumper that gave the Miners the lead for good to start overtime in an eventual 66-65 victory over Florida Atlantic on Jan. 14 at the Haskins Center.
– The Miners held FAU to 36.2 percent shooting, including 21.4 percent (6-for-28) from three-point range. Gerdarius Troutman almost single-handedly kept the Owls in the game, scoring 22 points and making all six of his team’s three pointers. He was 6-for-9 from beyond the arc, and the rest of the squad was 0-for-19.
– UTEP led throughout the first half and remained in front until 3:57 remaining in regulation, when Troutman hit two free throws for a 50-49 FAU lead. It was the Owls’ first advantage since 4-2 early on.
– Willms broke a 52-52 tie on a free throw with 1:22 remaining, and Dominic Artis’ layup pushed the Miner lead to three (55-52) with 13 seconds left. Troutman hit his fifth three of the game with five seconds on the clock to sent it to overtime.
– The Miners scored the first four points in overtime, built an eight-point lead (66-58) with 1:15 to play, then withstood a furious rally by the Owls. After Troutman cut it to one (66-65) on his final triple of the evening with three seconds left, the ball was inbounded to Trey Touchet who threw it into the frontcourt, enabling time to run out.
– UTEP placed four players in double figure scoring for the second consecutive game. Matt Willms scored 16, Paul Thomas had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Artis added 11 points.
– After falling behind 4-2 early, the Miners scored eight straight points to take a 10-4 lead on a layup by Harris with 14:34remaining in the half. Florida Atlantic knotted the score at 11, but UTEP answered with a 9-0 run to power ahead 20-11 on a layup by Touchet with 8:43 to play.
– Florida Atlantic ended the half with an 8-2 run to trim a 24-15 deficit down to 26-23. Troutman made two of his three first-half three-pointers over the final 3:29 of the period.
MINERS IN THE NCAA STATS
– Dominic Artis was ninth in the nation in minutes (37.0 mpg), 11th in assists (6.4 apg) and 30th in steals (2.1 spg) through Jan. 19. Omega Harris was 13th in minutes (36.6 mpg).
National Assist Leaders (Through Jan. 19)
1. Maurice Watson Jr. (Creighton) 8.5 apg
2. Lonzo Ball (UCLA) 8.2 apg
3. Kyron Cartwright (Providence) 7.1 apg
Austin Luke (Belmont) 7.1 apg
Jaaron Simmons (Ohio) 7.1 apg
6. Erick Neal (UT Arlington) 6.8 apg
7. Christen Cunningham (Samford) 6.7 apg
Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure) 6.7 apg
9. Jalen Adams (UConn) 6.5 apg
Tra-Deon Hollins (Omaha) 6.5 apg
11. Dominic Artis (UTEP) 6.4 apg