Earvin Morris scored 23 points on “Senior Day,” and UTEP shot 56.8 percent from the field in defeating UTSA, 81-74, in the regular season finale for both teams on Saturday at the Haskins Center.
The Miners (18-13, 10-8 C-USA) will enter next week’s Conference USA Championship in Birmingham coming off a victory.
The team has earned a no. 6 seed at the 2016 Conference USA Championships. The Miners secured the no. 6 seed by beating UTSA on Saturday (81-74), with North Texas topping Charlotte later in the day (80-77).
The Miners (18-13, 10-8 C-USA) will face no. 11 seed FIU (13-18, 7-11 C-USA) on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.Central/7:30 p.m. Mountain at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network.
“I’m sure it will be somebody that has given us some problems somewhere along the way,” said UTEP coach Tim Floyd of his team’s potential opponent. “We’ve had our challenges with the teams that are in that group. They’ll all be problematic. We are going to go in there with spirit and try to play, but whoever we’re playing against is going to try to do the same thing.”
On Saturday UTEP, idle for the last week, looked sluggish in the first half before shooting 69.6 percent and scoring 52 points after halftime.
“I thought we showed some improvement in the areas that we were deficient in against Charlotte [last Saturday],” Floyd said. “Phil Johnson really had to do a number with these guys the last few days because I was sick, wasn’t here Thursday and Friday we didn’t do much. I thought our guys defensively in screen and roll coverage and staying between their guy and the basket for the most part was better, which is a credit to our team trying to improve late in the year. A lot of teams aren’t competing this time of the year. They have pitched it in.”
The Miners held UTSA (5-26, 3-15 C-USA) to 39.7 percent shooting, with the Roadrunners scored 11 of their 46 second-half points from the line.
UTEP didn’t take its first lead (22-20) until 4:28 remaining in the first half, and the Miners led 29-28 at the break.
“I thought we looked like a team, for the first 25-30 minutes of the game, that hadn’t played in a week. We were really rusty offensively,” Floyd said. “We looked like a team that had put its emphasis on the defensive end in the first half, which we had. We got a little better offensively in the second half.”
From the 58-second mark of the first half to the 10:35 mark of the second half, the Miners outscored UTSA 32-11. That turned a 28-24 deficit into a 56-39 lead.
UTEP’s second half field goal percentage hovered close to 80 percent until the final minutes. The Miners finished 25-for-44 from the field and 11-for-17 (64.7 percent) from three-point land.
“I remain concerned when we shoot the percentage that we shot from the three-point line tonight, and the percentage that we shot from the floor in the second half, and we win by seven points,” Floyd said. “It means that there are things going on with your ballclub. We put them at the line too much. But you can also point to us, from the standpoint that we missed a lot of free throws [20-for-40]. Maybe if we make those free throws, we’re not talking about other areas.”
One of four seniors honored before the game, Morris shot 9-for-13 from the field, 3-for-5 from outside and 2-for-4 from the line while also contributing six rebounds and two steals.
“I think Earvin is a guy whose confidence has highs and lows,” Floyd said. “And going into the tournament, he’s the one guy that I would say ‘Boy, you’d like for him to have a good game,’ and for Earv to feel good about himself going over to the tournament. And then you always like to have a senior have some nice moments at home.”
With all four seniors starting the game, Lee Moore (15 points), Dominic Artis (13) and Omega Harris (13) all came off the bench. UTEP had a 48-22 advantage in bench points.
Now it’s off to Birmingham for what the Miners hope will be four games in four days.
“I still like our team,” Floyd said. “I really believe in our team offensively. Our challenge in getting through a tournament will be, ‘Can we come with back-to-back-to-back defensive efforts and defensive board efforts?’ Our kids will be excited. They’re looking forward to it.”
Author: UTEP Athletics