UTEP’s Bryson Williams | Photo by Michael Berlfein
MIAMI – With the Miners (9-5, 0-1 Conference USA) up three points with just over five minutes remaining in the game, the Panthers (10-4, 1-0 C-USA) rallied, outscoring UTEP 9-4 down the stretch to claim a 69-67 victory to open league action Thursday afternoon at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center.
For the Miners, Daryl Edwards led with a game-high 20 points, while Bryson Williams tallied 12 points and nine boards.
UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry missed the game due to an illness and was admitted to the hospital in the Miami area the night before. First-year assistant coach Kenton Paulino took his place on the sideline.
“Coach Terry wanted to be here, and he’s doing much, much better,” Paulino said. “[The hospital] wanted to hold him for a certain period of time and they wouldn’t let him go. But he’s ready to get back to work.”
UTEP outscored FIU 41-33 in the second half after falling 10 points down at the half. UTEP turned the ball over 13 times during the first period, but shortened that to only four in the second half. FIU shot 53.8 percent (7-13) from three-point range in the first half, while finishing 9-of-21 for the game (42.9 percent).
After FIU led the entire first half, there were seven ties and four lead changes during the second period.
“We didn’t play nowhere what were capable of playing in the first half,” Paulino said. “We gave away 20 minutes, as we didn’t do a good job at taking care of the ball in the first half. We talked about guarding the three-point line and [FIU] got a lot of good looks. But we made adjustments and fought back in the second half to make it a close contest.”
The Miners outrebounded the Panthers, 43-37, while grabbing a season-high 14 offensive boards. The Orange and Blue dished out 16 assists, which was the most in a league game since Jan. 6, 2018 (17 at La Tech).
Edwards had the hot hand, shooting 7-of-11 from the field and 4-of-6 from South Beach.
Deon Stroud came off the bench in the first half, scoring 10 points, and pulling down four rebounds – all on the offensive end. Souley Boum recorded seven rebounds with a trio of assists, while Eric Vila led the squad with five assists and chipped in with five points and six rebounds.
Nigel Hawkins and Anthony Tarke made their first starts of the campaign. Hawkins tallied nine points, to go along with four assists and four rebounds. Tarke registered eight rebounds and two steals.
UTEP opened up the second half with an 18-8 run, tying the ball game at 44 after a made jumper by Williams off an Edwards’s assist at the 12:50 mark. Boum started the second half with a layup after a turnover by Devon Andrews, while an Isaiah Banks’s missed jumper led to a Hawkins’s three-pointer, getting UTEP within five points (36-31).
After FIU big man Osasumwen Osaghae gave the Panthers a 40-31 lead, Edwards started a 13-4 run after nailing a three-point bucket. Boum followed with a layup, making the count 40-36. Vila made a jumper after an Eric Lovett made free-throw, and Williams made the score 43-40 on a layup.
Cameron Corcoran made the first of two free throws and Edwards followed with back-to-back baskets to tie the game 44-44.
FIU built a seven-point lead (56-49) following a pair of made free throws by Trejon Jacob. However, the fighting Miners used an 14-4 run to take a three-point edge (63-60) as Hawkins (four points) and Edwards (10 points) combined for all 14 points during the run.
Hawkins began the run with a layup off an assist by Edwards, and Edwards finished the run with a three-pointers with 5:19 left in the contest.
Andrews tied the game at 63 on an and-1, while Banks gave FIU the go-ahead two-point (65-63) advantage with a layup at the 2:52 mark.
Though the Miners cut their turnovers down in the second period, two of them were recorded with under four minutes remaining in the contest.
Andrews missed a pair of free throws with seven seconds left and the score 69-66, but Antonio Daye, Jr. fouled Hawkins. He made the first, missed the second but Banks came down with the rebound to secure the victory.
Andrews led FIU with 16 points, while Osaghae ripped down 12 boards to go along with his nine points and four blocked shots.
Up next, UTEP will look for its first road win when it takes on Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton on Saturday, Jan. 4. The Miners and Owls are set to tipoff at 2 p.m. MT/4 ET.