Jordan Lathon hit the game-winning jumper as time expired, lifting the UTEP Miners in an exciting, 65-64, triumph over Rice on Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center.
“Just the way we drew it up. First off want to say we probably wouldn’t have gotten this done tonight if we didn’t have the support behind us. Miner nation was great,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “The crowd gave us a lot of energy. We didn’t come out with a lot of pop to start. I don’t know what that was for, we just didn’t have a lot of energy to start the ball game, but our crowd really stayed behind us, and was really the difference in the game.”
Lathon finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, a team-high five assists, a blocked shot and two steals, helping the Miners (6-9, 1-3 C-USA) to their first Conference USA victory of the season.
The Owls’ Trey Murphy III had put his squad up 64-63 after he grabbed an offensive rebound and connected on a three-point bucket with 1.6 second left on the clock.
“I just knew we had to get a shot up,” Lathon said. “I started to make shots in the ball game and my confidence went up. I didn’t know we’d get another opportunity after [Murphy III] made that shot. It kind of hurt us. But we stayed together and we grew as a team tonight.”
Ountae Campbell’s first pass attempt was deflected out of bounds in the corner, taking time off the clock. Campbell, from the bottom corner and with .5 seconds remaining, threw the ball to an open Lathon. The ball took one bounce, Lathon grabbed it and nailed the jumper from the baseline just inside the three-point line.
“We were set up for our home run play, and Ountae was going to be the guy to make the pass for us,” Terry said. “They put a big guy on the ball just like you are supposed to. A lot of times you would like to have a big guy who is your homerun passer, but in that situation, we didn’t really have anyone other than him that could do that for us. Once the deflection happened it changed the angle of where we were taking the ball out. We were still trying to run the same play, but as the ball changed I told Ountae to throw it down the side.”
Lathon was mobbed by his teammates, coaches and fans while the referees looked at the play on the monitor. The refs declared the shot good, electrifying the Haskins Center and giving Terry his first league win as UTEP’s head coach.
The Miners found themselves down 17 points (25-8) at the 9:24 mark as the Owls (7-11, 2-3 C-USA) connected on seven three pointers during that stretch to start the contest. With the score tied 5-5, Rice proceeded to go on a 17-1 run, making the count 22-6.
A layup by UTEP’s other freshman star Nigel Hawkins made the score 25-10 that set the tone for the remainder of the first half. The Miners would go to the locker room only down five points (34-29).
Hawkins finished with a career-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting and chipped in with seven boards and an assist. Hawkins also went 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The second half was a back-and-forth battle between the two Texas rivals as the lead changed seven times. UTEP outscored Rice 8-2 on second chance points during the second period.
Lathon started a bit slow, scoring six points in the first half. But the Grandview, Mo., native and big Kansas City Chiefs fan, found his groove in the second half. Lathon hit the second of his three treys at the 14:06 mark to tie the contest 42-42. Lathon then gave the Miners a 49-47 lead with his third made three-point bucket at the 11:40 mark. He was a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown.
The Owls, prior to leading the ball game after Murphy III’s three-pointer, took a 56-52 lead with just over six minutes remaining. A made free throw by Hawkins and a three-point basket by Evan Gilyard tied the game 56-56 with 5:08 remaining to set up the drama for the 4,300-plus in the Bear’s Den.
Gilyard finished with 12 points, four rebounds and a steal. Campbell came off the bench, finished the game, and scored four points and tallied two assists, including the pass to Lathon. Efe Odigie grabbed nine rebounds and chipped in with six points, while Kobe Magee tallied two points and an assist.
The Miners outshot the Owls, 44.6 percent (25-56) to 36.7 percent (22-60). Rice was 41.9 percent from beyond the arc and outrebounded UTEP, 39-38.
“[Rice is] a team that makes nine threes a game, and they made 13 in the game tonight,” Terry said. “They shot 31 you know, so we knew coming in shooting defense was really big. If we could take their threes away then we really liked our chances in terms of what we needed to do. Give them a lot of credit they kept battling, and made it a tough ball game for us.”
Jack Williams made big shots for Rice, as he led his squad with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Robert Martin finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. They were the first to post a double-double against the Miners this season.
Up next, the Miners will hit the road for contests at UAB on Jan. 17 (6 p.m. MT) and Middle Tennessee on Jan. 19 (4 p.m. MT).
Photo gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald Post
J2’s game-winning shot‼️.#BlueCollarMentality#NewEraUTEP
Posted by UTEP Basketball on Saturday, January 12, 2019