Miner men travel East
– With a quarter of the Conference USA schedule in the books, the UTEP basketball team is tied for third place with a 3-1 record, making this week’s two-game road trip to East Carolina and UAB significant.
The Miners will face the Pirates on Saturday in Greenville (5 p.m. MT), then fly to Birmingham in advance of a Wednesday matchup with the Blazers (6 p.m. MT).
“We’re going to keep pounding away,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We’ve got back-to-back road games, followed by three straight in El Paso. If we can go on the road and play well and come back home and play well, then we’re putting ourselves in position to contend. But this trip is certainly big for us.”
It won’t be easy. East Carolina and UAB are a combined 17-3 on their home floors. The Pirates (12-6, 3-2 C-USA) are 10-1 and averaging 83 points per game at Minges Coliseum.
Scoring has been a strength for East Carolina, which leads C-USA at 78.2 points per game. The Pirates are averaging 7.7 three pointers per contest, and have actually taken more three-point shots (412) than free throws (404). Junior guard Akeem Richmond, a Rhode Island transfer, has made a league-leading 46 triples with a .442 percentage from beyond the arc.
East Carolina has a dynamite senior duo in forward Maurice Kemp (17.7 ppg/8.0 rpg) and guard Miguel Paul (12.8 ppg/6.2 apg). Kemp is first in the league in scoring, and Paul is second in assists and free throw percentage (.882).
The Pirates have been held under 70 points once in 11 home games (62 versus Gardner-Webb) and overcame double-digit second-half deficits to beat UNC Greensboro, UCF and Houston.
“They are capable of putting a lot of points on the board,” Floyd said. “Miguel Paul is one of the premier guards in our league. They get into a lot of pick and pop situations. Their backcourt is very strong. We know that they have been very good at home. It will be a real challenge.”
UTEP will counter East Carolina’s offensive potency with a defense that has allowed an average of 53.9 points in the last seven games. The Miners have really hunkered down on defending the three-point shot. In the first 10 games of the season, opponents made five or more trifectas nine times. In the last seven games they have made two on five occasions, with no more than four in any contest.
UTEP’s defensive three-point percentage in non-conference games was .356. In C-USA games it is a sparkling .262 (11-for-42).
“We have been consistent on the defensive end going back to the Nebraska game [on Dec. 23],” Floyd said. “We were steady at Tulane. We played well here at home against Marshall and even at Tulsa in defeat. That part has been there.”