El Paso, TX — The UTEP men’s basketball team spent most of the day Tuesday traveling to Greenville, N.C. for a Thursday night date with the Pirates.
The Miners left the Foster Stevens Center around noon mountain time to catch a flight to Houston, where they had a three-hour layover before hopping on another plane to Raleigh Durham. They arrived at the Raleigh Durham Airport at approximately 11:30 Eastern time (9:30 mountain), collected their bags and then drove 90 miles by bus to Greenville, arriving at 2:15 a.m. Eastern (12:15 mountain).
On Thursday, after the Miners battle East Carolina at 9 p.m. Eastern (7 mountain) before a national television (Fox Sports 1) audience, they’ll take another bus ride – this one about 120 miles to Norfolk, Va. for Saturday’s matchup with Old Dominion.
It’s all a part of life on the road in Conference USA, especially when you’re located as far southwest as El Paso and traveling to a destination as far as eastern Virginia.
Whether it’s on account of the long travel day, the late tip-off, or the prospect of facing an East Carolina squad that gained confidence with a road win over UAB last week, the Miners figure to have their hands full on Thursday night.
“We have been the beneficiary of playing an awful lot of home games,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We’ve only had two true road tests at Middle Tennessee and UAB. You face a whole new set of challenges on the road, and we’ll see if we can withstand those challenges.”
Less than a week ago, the Pirates were 0-6 in C-USA play. Now they’re feeling good about themselves after handing UAB just its second home loss of the season (UTEP was the first), 74-67 on Feb. 1.
East Carolina has always been tough to beat at home, as evidenced by the Miners needing a 25-foot buzzer beating shot to win there, 68-67, a year ago.
Senior guard Akeem Richmond leads ECU, averaging 18.2 points per game. Junior guard Paris Roberts-Campbell averages 13.5 ppg and freshman forward Caleb White averages 12.6 ppg. Freshman forward Brandan Stith is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.0 boards per game (4.5 in C-USA play).
The Pirates are second in C-USA in scoring offense (77.7 ppg), free throw percentage (.713), three-point field goal percentage (.361), three pointers per game (8.5), assists (14.5 apg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.2). Richmond is first in C-USA in three pointers made per game (4.6) and second in scoring behind Florida Atlantic’s Pablo Bertone (18.3 ppg).
Richmond is the national leader in three pointers per game and ranks second in three-point attempts (261) behind Oakland’s Travis Bader (265). He is also second nationally in three point makes (101) behind Bader (104). As a team, East Carolina is 17th in the NCAA in three pointers attempted (518), 20th in three pointers made (187), and 22nd in three pointers made per game.
“They’re a team that has proven to be capable with a big win over UAB on the road,” Floyd said. “They have very good perimeter players. They have one young man with more three-point attempts than anybody in the United States. Defensive transition will be the key on Thursday night.”
The Miners lead the series 6-2 and are 2-2 versus the Pirates in Greenville. UTEP has had a 20-point scorer in seven of the eight games it has played against East Carolina -- Jason Williams in 2006 (22 points), Stefon Jackson in 2007 (24) and 2008 (41), Randy Culpepper in 2009 (25), 2010 (45) and 2011 (22), and John Bohannon in 2013 (23).
UTEP is 2-0 in C-USA road games for the first time since the 2008-09 season. The Miners haven’t won their first three conference road games since the 1993-94 season when they knocked off Fresno State (58-57), Air Force (77-75) and Wyoming (67-64). UTEP also started 3-0 on the road in league play during the 1986-87 season, the only other time this has happened since 1960.
Vince Hunter has been the Miners’ leading scorer in all four road games this season. He is averaging 17.3 ppg in away games and shooting 70 percent (28-for-40) from the field.