El Paso, TX — UTEP outscored Montana State 15-4 to close the first half, then overcame a sloppy final 20 minutes to dispatch the Bobcats, 70-55, on Monday night at the Haskins Center.
The Miners (8-5) have their first three-game winning streak of the season. And it came at the start of a season-long six-game homestand.
“I thought we played really well in the first half. It was kind of a carryover from the Washington State game,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “And [we played] not so good in the second half. Way too many turnovers.”
UTEP shot 54.2 percent in the first half, coughed up the basketball five times and outscored Montana State (5-6) 40-23. In the second half, the Miners had 13 turnovers, cooled off to 40.9 percent shooting and were outscored 32-30.
UTEP’s defense was stellar throughout. The Bobcats finished at 34.5 percent from the field, including 31.3 percent in the second period.
Despite their penchant for giving away the ball in the second half, the Miners were never seriously threatened. The closest Montana State could get was 12 points in the last 10 minutes.
Julian Washburn recorded his first 20-point game of the season, and the seventh of his career, with 20 points. He shot 8-for-12 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point territory.
Cedrick Lang was highly instrumental in the Miners controlling the boards 38-28. He posted his third career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. And John Bohannon dished out a game-high six assists. Suddenly the 6-11 senior center leads UTEP with 31 assists on the year.
“I think Julian is playing his best basketball of the year in the last three games,” Floyd said. “He seems to have settled in offensively. He really struggled up to that point, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence. I’m really proud of Bohannon offensively. He’s not trying to do too much. [His assists] are just a result of us getting it to the post enough to where he’s comfortable enough to pass it out there. Cedrick’s double-double was really encouraging. We kind of challenged him to turn around his last couple of performances just by rebounding. He played very well tonight.”
For the third straight game, the Miners made more free throws (18) than their opponent attempted (14). And they shot 8-for-16 from three-point range.
“[The three-point shooting] is not a strong suit of ours, but we shot 50 percent,” Floyd said. “We held another team in back-to-back games below 35 percent [shooting], which is great.”
The Miners will enjoy a brief holiday break before reconvening for practice on Thursday night. They’ll battle Western Illinois (Saturday) and Denver (Sunday) in this weekend’s WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, with both games starting at 7.