Evan Gilyard connected on a pair of free throws with three seconds remaining, while Jordan Lathon made a big defensive stop and the UTEP Miners (7-12, 2-6 Conference USA) defeated the Charlotte 49ers (5-15, 2-7 C-USA) in front of a raucous crowd at the Haskins Center Saturday night.
With UTEP up 55-53, Charlotte prolific scorer Jon Davis attempted a jumper with four seconds remaining, but Lathon stepped in front of Davis and blocked his shot out of bounds in favor of the Miners. Davis then fouled Gilyard, in which the sophomore sealed the deal with his two made free throws.
“We will take [wins] any way we can get them right now,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “This time of the season I always tell our team you have to be really excited about playing. I thought our guys had good energy, we gave them a good recovery time yesterday afternoon. We had a good walk through with a quick turnaround against a Princeton offense, which is not the easiest thing to guard. Our guys did a really good job of sitting down, and really trying to follow their defensive rules this game. It is a lot different than the way we play defense, so guys had to adapt and adjust and stay between their man and the basket. We didn’t give up backdoor cuts and I thought we did a good job.”
Paul Thomas, who came off the bench the previous two games, made his way back into the starting lineup. The senior answered with 11 points, seven rebounds, a blocked shot and two steals. Thomas scored UTEP’s first five points, while he hit key shots down the stretch.
Nigel Hawkins put up good all-around number, scoring 12 points and leading the team with eight rebounds. Hawkins tied Lathon with three assists to lead the squad. Lathon chipped in with eight points and four rebounds.
The back-and-forth contest saw the scored tied seven times, while the lead changed nine times.
Gilyard scored 10 of his team-leading 13 points during the second half. Gilyard shot 3-for-5 from the field, including a made three-point bucket and a 3-for-4 effort from the charity stripe.
Davis, C-USA’s second leading scorer, tallied 19 of his 23 points during the second period, in which he kept the 49ers in the ball game.
UTEP went up as many as nine points (23-14) during the first half, but Charlotte closed out the half on a 5-0 run in which Davis hit a jumper and Jaylan McGill made a three pointer with eight seconds remaining and getting the 49ers within four points (23-19).
Charlotte’s biggest lead during the second half was a 31-29 edge after a Davis three-point bucket. But the Miners answered with a 12-2 run to go up 41-33 with just over nine minutes left in the contest. Hawkins began the run with a pair of made free throws, while connecting on a three-point shot and putting UTEP up 34-31. After Malik Martin made a jumper to get within a point, Gilyard connected on a two-point bucket after a Hawkins’ steal and assist. Gilyard then made a three-point shot, while Hawkins followed with two made free throws to end the run.
But Charlotte wouldn’t go away as it went on a 10-2 run to tie the contest at 43-43 with 4:34 remaining. Davis scored all 10 of the points, while Lathon added a pair of free throws during the run.
Thomas came up with a three-point play after drawing a foul on a made two-point shot to put UTEP up 46-43.
After a Brandon Younger jump shot to get the 49ers within one (46-45), Thomas rebounded one of his missed shots and put it back with 2:40 left in the game to put the Miners up 48-45.
Charlotte had an answer for every UTEP run down the stretch. The Miners went up six points (52-46) with 1:29 left and the 49ers crept to within a point on multiple occasions before the final 20 seconds of drama.
Charlotte shot only 38.5 percent (20-52), while only connecting on 6-of-25 three-point attempts.
“We did a good job. We like to be an aggressive defensive team where we are in passing lanes,” Terry said. “When you play a Princeton offense you have to stay between your man and the basket. You have to do a great job on their split game, and I thought we did a great job of communicating on the split game actions.”
UTEP will play at Marshall on Jan. 31 (5:30 p.m. MT). The Thundering Herd and Miners will be streamed on beIN Sports. UTEP will then play at WKU on Feb. 2 (5 p.m. MT) on ESPN+.