Souley Boum nailed a collegiate career-high five three pointers, while tying his career best with 26 points and Bryson Williams registered his second double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) of the season as the UTEP Miners (7-1) downed North Carolina A&T (3-8), 72-54, in the first round of the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Monday night.
“I thought our guys came out tonight and really executed against a combination of defenses,” second-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “We knew we would see some 1-3-1 and I thought our guys did a nice job seeing the 1-3-1 in a game situation. We did a great job of handling that in the first half. We saw a 2-3 zone in our previous game, which was good for us for 40 minutes. I thought tonight we were much better against the 2-3 zone. We got great looks all night long, whether we were attacking in the middle of the zone, or whether we were getting it into the interior.”
The Miners improved the 7-0 in the Haskins Center, making it the best start in the Sun City since the 2003-04 season. UTEP finally got going from three-point land, as it made a season-high 13-of-27 (48.1 percent).
The Orange and Blue set the season high in the first half with eight-made treys.
UTEP will now take on UC Irvine (7-5) in the championship game Tuesday night with tipoff set for 7 p.m. The Anteaters upset Kent State (8-2), 74-68, in the earlier contest.
Boum produced all-around numbers, going 8-for-11 from the field that included a 5-for-8 effort from downtown. The redshirt sophomore also went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe. Boum missed his first free throw of the season after starting his UTEP career 24-of-24 from the line.
“Souley has been a guy we expected all year who we counted on to make shots for us and score the basketball,” Terry said. “That’s what he did at San Francisco. He was all-freshman in the WCC and we were glad to see him make some shots.”
Williams scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half. The redshirt junior went 4-for-5 from the field, and shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Overall, Williams made 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Williams is 9-for-13 (69.2) from three-point range this season after going 1-for-4 in his first two years at Fresno State.
“I’ve been working on (three-point shooting) since I got to UTEP,” Williams said. “After not playing for a year, I was just constantly shooting in the gym and it all took care of itself.”
Daryl Edwards added nine points, including back-to-back three pointers in the first half that put the Miners up 18-8.
The Aggies, however, would rally. They answered with a 7-0 run sparked by a made three-point bucket by Ronald Jackson (13 points) that got his squad within three points (18-15).
Even after a pair of made free throws by Nigel Hawkins that put UTEP up 22-15, North Carolina A&T would not go away.
The Aggies assembled a 13-5 run that was capped by two Kameron Langley’s made free throws at the 3:03 mark, putting them up 28-27.
But Boum’s late three gave UTEP a 30-28 lead and never looked back. The Miners ran into the locker room up eight points (37-29) after finishing out the first half on a 10-1 run.
The second-half scoring opened up after NC A&T got within six points (39-33) after a jumper by Devin Haygood at the 17:08 mark. The Miners used an 18-3 run to go up 57-36 and essentially clinching the seventh home victory of the season.
Jordan Lathon and Edwards each tallied four of UTEP’s 18 dimes, while Lathon added six rebounds and a late three-point bucket.
The Miners allowed less than 60 points for the fifth time this season, while the Aggies only shot 34.5 percent from the field. It was the sixth time this season UTEP allowed less than 39 percent shooting from the field. UTEP also outrebounded North Carolina A&T, 43-32.
“I thought we were good defensively for stretches,” Terry said. “But I didn’t think we were good for 40 minutes. However, I thought we really turned the game in the second half with our defense.”
UTEP will play UC Irvine in Tuesday’s championship game as the Anteaters have won four of their last five games. Collin Welp leads UCI in points per game (14.3) and rebounds per contest (6.4). Eyassu Worku averages 10.9 points per game.
Welp led the way with 18 points on Monday night, while Eyassu chipped in with 15 points and six assists, and Brad Greene with 16 points. UCI outrebounded Kent State, 35-32, and recorded six steals.
“It’s a program I’m very familiar with,” Terry said. “Russ (Turner) is a great coach and he’s built a solid program. We’re trying the build a program here, and he’s built one there that has a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament every year. We’re going to play to play some good senior guards and have played in postseason play. Their interior players are really good as well and they put a lot pressure on the basket. He’s always had really big teams and they execute well. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Gallery by Ruben R. Ramirez | Johnny Yturales – El Paso Herald Post | Video by UTEP