El Paso, TX — Julian Washburn scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half as UTEP Improved to 3-0 in conference road games for the first time in 20 years with a 58-47 triumph at East Carolina on Thursday.
The Miners (17-6, 7-1 C-USA) matched the 1986-87 and 1993-94 squads, both affiliated with the Western Athletic Conference, as the only UTEP teams since to win their first three league road games since 1960. They’ll get a crack at another victory on Saturday at Old Dominion (5 p.m. MT).
UTEP survived rough starts to both halves, crushing the much smaller Pirates (12-11, 1-7 C-USA) on the boards by a 42-17 count.
“We feel very fortunate to get the win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We didn’t start either half particularly well. They made a great run at the start of the game and a great run to start the second half.”
East Carolina opened a 9-2 lead early when Akeem Richmond, the national leader in three pointers per game, hit three straight triples. The Miners closed the half with a 12-2 run to go ahead 27-18. But the Pirates scored the first five points of the second period to slice the deficit to four points (27-23).
An 11-2 run extended a 32-28 UTEP lead to 43-30. After the Pirates cut the lead to seven (51-44) with a little under five minutes remaining, the Miners went on a 7-1 spurt.
John Bohannon spearheaded the Miners’ rebounding effort with 14 boards to go along with 12 points. His 18th career double-double tied him for eighth place in school history with Marlon Maxey. Cedrick Lang added 10 rebounds.
C.J. Cooper led UTEP with 15 points.
“I thought Cedrick coming in really affected the game for us with some offensive boards and finishes,” Floyd said. “Julian Washburn moving to Akeem [Richmond] helped us in the first half. After three straight threes, I thought he was going to score 100.”
After Floyd made the switch from Cooper to Washburn fronting Richmond, he scored 11 points over the final 36 and a half minutes. He still led the Pirates with 20 points.
“He is just a fabulous shooter,” Floyd said. “He just doesn’t need any room. He’s quick as a hiccup coming off those screens. He just loads it up and gets rid of it. He’s just absolutely terrific. The only way to play him is to not let him catch it.”
In a battle of teams with limited depth, the Miners used their height advantage to outscore the Pirates 32-14 in the paint and 22-3 in second chance points.
“If we could put our two teams together we might win the national title,” Floyd said. “They’re depleted with bigs, and God bless them, it’s tough. Look at the rebounding totals tonight. We’re able to keep these guys in the game. C.J. Cooper can play. Julian Washburn can play. Vince Hunter can play. It’s not like they can’t play. But we’re just able to keep those three guys in the game.
“We’re in a little better shape than they are, and that’s the whole difference. I feel for Jeff [Lebo]. He’s a helluva coach. It’s a tremendous problem that fans forget about. They just say ‘Well look at the end result.’ And you don’t have guys. You have guys walk in in August and say they’re not coming, which is what happened to us on the perimeter, and it’s brutal to play the schedules that you’ve already made. They’re still going to beat some people, and it’s a dangerous team because of their offense. They’re playing young kids out there on the perimeter. We’ve got old guys. And there’s a big difference.”
The Miners shot 52 percent from the field – 56 percent in the second half – to East Carolina’s 35.4 percent. Washburn shot 6-for-14, Cooper 6-for-13, Bohannon 6-for-7 and Lang 4-for-5.
“C.J. Cooper has just flipped it,” Floyd said. “He couldn’t hit the wall with it until Dec. 28 when those three guys went down. And he’s just making everything. Washburn has moved to the 2 spot and he’s just playing terrific. He’s a big 2 and he can bother people defensively out front.
“Washburn’s 6-for-14 is a lie. He got caught with two or three seconds to go four times where he just cranked one up and hoped to hit the rim. He was terrific [on Richmond]. He just tried to deny everywhere. Midway through the second half, Richmond got it going and two of them were not his fault. It should have been a switch to Richmond off of a screen. Washburn is the best defender that I have coached in 38 years, college or pro, in this game. He can guard ones, twos or threes. His feet are there, the willingness is there, the length is there and the intelligence is there.”
The Miners won on a night where Vince Hunter – who led them in scoring in each of the first four road games this season – played only 22 minutes due to foul trouble and collected seven points and seven rebounds.
“Overall I was very pleased that we were able to go on the road and hold them to 35 percent. I think they were averaging about 76 [points],” Floyd said. “We’re just grinding them out. They’re not very pretty. But I’m real pleased with the win.”