Bryson Williams | Photo courtesy Conference USA
FRISCO, Texas – Bryson Williams scored 25 points and Jordan Lathon recorded a double-double on season-highs in points (22) and rebounds (11) while tying his career best with six assists, but Marshall pulled away from UTEP late to claim an 86-78 victory on Wednesday night in the first round at the Conference USA Basketball Championships.
The Miners (17-15, 8-10 C-USA) got within three points on a pair of occasions down the stretch, however the Thundering Herd (17-15, 10-8 C-USA) hit clutch baskets and made their free throws down the stretch to pull away.
“I’d like to give Marshall a lot of credit, those guys came out and worked the game for 40 minutes and I have a lot of respect for their program,” second-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “I thought we were in good shape for the better part of the game, but we lost some separation toward the end of the first half, and that was the big difference in the game in terms of giving those guys some transition baskets.”
UTEP took a 15-10 lead on a Williams’s three-point bucket at the 14:07 mark. Marshall answered with an 8-2 run to take an 18-17 edge with 9:17 left in the first half and never relinquished the lead. The Herd built the lead to 13 points after a pair of free throws by Jannson Williams but Kaden Archie followed with a dunk on the other end to make it an 11-point game (43-32) going into the locker room.
Marshall was up by as many as 14 points (48-34) following a three by Jarrod West early in the second half, but the Miners battled to cut the lead the single digits. Souley Boum hit three three-pointers with under six minutes left in the contest. His third got the Miners within seven points, 77-70.
Williams followed with a hook shot in the paint, while an Edwards’s driving layup on a fast break at the 2:03 mark got his squad within three points, 77-74. But Mikel Beyers drew a pair of fouls and went 4-for-4 from the foul line to make the count 81-74 with 1:45 left in the game.
“I give my guys a lot of credit, they fought, they battled, and could’ve easily laid down and didn’t,” Terry said. “They put themselves in the position late in the ball game to have a chance to win the ball game.”
Williams, who scored 21 points in the second half, scored four points on consecutive possessions to make it an 81-78 contest with 53 seconds remaining. Kinsey was fouled on the following possession and made 1-of-2 from the line to up the lead to four points (82-78).
Williams missed a three on the other end and the Herd finished the game 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
UTEP outrebounded Marshall 43-42, as Williams grabbed nine boards and Boum recorded eight. Boum scored 11 of his 13 points during the second half, but shot 4-for-20 overall in the contest. Tydus Verhoeven recorded a season-high four blocks, while adding four points, five rebounds and a steal.
Edwards tallied five points on 2-of-6 shooting and dished out four assists, while Deon Stroud played over 16 minutes off the bench, tallying five points, and Archie played over 20 minutes with four points and a pair of assists.
UTEP shot 40.0 percent from downtown, led by Lathon’s 5-for-8 effort. Lathon shot 6-for-10 overall and went 5-of-7 at the foul line. Williams went 11-of-23 from the field, including a pair of threes.
Marshall held UTEP to 37.1 percent from the field, while shooting 46.0 percent itself.
The Thundering Herd outscored the Miners, 46-26, in the paint and 16-8 on fast-break points. Marshall’s bench also outdid UTEP’s, 24-9, led by Beyers’s 14 points in over 21 minutes of action. Taevion Kinsey played all 40 minutes, scoring 26 points, though he was held to five points in the second half.
The Miners finished with their first winning season since the 2015-16 campaign (19-14), while advancing to the C-USA Tournament for the first time in over a year. UTEP improved to 17 wins from eight last season, while improving from three league wins to eight during the 2019-20 campaign.
“There’s no disappointment this season and we’re building,” Terry said. “We still have a way to go in terms of what we’re doing. I’m excited with what we were able to do this year. We kept playing and battling all year long.”