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.