Bryson Williams scored 19 points, including a crucial three-point play late, as UTEP held off Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 59-50, on Saturday in the Haskins Center to move to 6-1 on the young season.
“We have a lot of respect for [UAPB] coach Ivory,” UTEP coach Rodney Terry said. “We knew his team was going to come in here and compete at a very high level. Whether they were at Kansas State or Pitt, those guys compete from start to finish. We knew we were going to play a team that would come in here and not be intimidated by us. They’ve already played quality opponents and played them well.”
Williams added seven rebounds, three assists and three steals for the Miners, who are 6-0 at home for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign.
Marquell Carter scored 21 points with five threes for the Golden Lions (1-7), who have played seven of their first eight games on the road.
Outrebounded 15-8 in the first half, UTEP (6-1) turned the tables on the Golden Lions (1-7) over the final 20 minutes. The Miners had an 18-12 edge on the glass during that stretch. UTEP was in a dogfight until holding UAPB scoreless over the final 3:14. During that time the Golden Lions missed three shots, and the Miners closed out possessions with defensive rebounds.
The Miners trailed 14-11 midway through the first half before putting together an 18-2 run over the next four and a half minutes. Williams’ jumper at the 4:42 mark gave UTEP its largest lead of the half, 29-16. UAPB, however, got hot from three-point range in the final few minutes of the half and drew to within a point (35-34) at the break.
In the first half, the Golden Lions shot 60 percent (12-for-20) from the field while making 4-of-8 threes. UTEP compensated by scoring 16 points off 13 UAPB turnovers.
“For the better part of the first 10 or 12 minutes, we did a good job of guarding the way we’ve guarded all year,” Terry said. “We really haven’t had a team shoot 60 percent on us all year and 50 percent from three. We’ve been one of the best three-point field goal defenses in the country.”
In the first half Carter scored 15 points, making three triples.
“We let a guy get comfortable,” Terry said. “He sized up a shot, and then we let him get comfortable again and he sized up another shot. He made three before the half. When you do that, you give a team confidence, and you’ve got to come back out and play at a very high level.”
The Miners scored the first seven points of the second half while holding UAPB scoreless over the first 4:23. Overall, UTEP limited UAPB to one field goal over the first eight and a half minutes of the period in building a 45-36 lead. But the Golden Lions wouldn’t go away. They pulled within four (54-50) on another three-pointer by Carter with 3:15 to go.
Those were the final points for UAPB, as Kaden Archie scored a layup with 2:49 remaining, followed by Williams’ huge “and-one” at the 2:13 mark.
Williams made 6-of-11 shots and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line, capping a week where he averaged 23 points per game.
Tydus Verhoeven, making his first start of the season, had four of the Miners’ 12 steals. Souley Boum scored nine points for UTEP, while Nigel Hawkins and Efe Odigie added seven apiece off the bench.
The Miners shot 43.2 percent from the field while facing a zone defense exclusively for the first time this season.
“Good game for us, a good opportunity for us to play against zone,” Terry said. “We’re going to continue to get better and better as the year goes on versus zone.”
The Miners will take part in the 58th Annual WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Dec. 16-17 in the Haskins Center. UTEP will join Kent State, North Carolina A&T and UC Irvine in the event.
First round matchups on Dec. 16 are Kent State versus UC Irvine at 5 p.m., and UTEP versus North Carolina A&T at 7 p.m. The consolation game is set for 5 p.m. on Dec. 17, followed by the championship game at 7 p.m.
UTEP has won 31 Sun Bowl Tournament titles, most recently in 2014. Tickets are on sale online or by calling (915) 747-5234.
Gallery by Johnny Yturales – EL Paso Herald Post | Video courtesy UTEP