EL PASO, Texas – Ze’Rik Onyema poured in a career-high 16 points and UTEP forced 21 turnovers but visiting UAB did enough to knock off the Miners, 79-66, in the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
The Miners (12-14, 5-10 C-USA held a 34-14 advantage in points off turnovers, piled up 42 points in the paint and corralled 17 offensive rebounds, but the Blazers (19-8, 10-6 C-USA) used a hot shooting night to emerge with the victory. They nailed 52.9 percent from the floor (27-51), including 9-17 from distance. UTEP connected on 42.2 percent overall (27-64) but was 3-14 (21.4 percent) on 3-point tries.
Despite the differential for shooting, the Miners trailed by only one (44-43) with 15:32 remaining in regulation before UAB managed to put together a 15-2 run to suddenly jump out by 14 (59-45). UTEP couldn’t get closer from seven the rest of the way.
Calvin Solomon and Shamar Givance both netted 13 points while Tae Hardy added 11 to join Onyema in double figures. Malik Zachery came off the bench to contribute six points, but no other Miner had more than three points. UTEP’s 17 offensive boards helped it enjoy a 19-8 cushion on second-chance points. It also had the slightest edge (12-11) in fastbreak scoring.
The Orange and Blue compiled 16 steals in the tilt, which tie as the 10th most in program history.
UAB was paced by Jordan Walker’s 22 points while four others also hit double figures in scoring for the Blazers.
“First I want to say that my family, wife and kids have our thoughts and prayers with the city of El Paso (after Wednesday’s tragedy at Cielo Vista),” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “I support this city, I’m behind it 100 percent. I love living here. We’ve got an unbelievable city.
“We finished the first half strong and looked like us a little bit,” Golding said. “We got some good looks to start the second half and didn’t knock them down and they did. We fought back and got it close and then Jelly (Jordan Walker) does what he does. It’s why he’s one of the best guards in college basketball. He hit two tough threes and that deflated us a little bit. We hung in there a little bit. There were some toughness things in there that we won.”
Onyema provided the first four points in the contest for the Miners, including a slam dunk on their opening possession. At the other end of the court, the Blazers were knocking down treys. It proved to be an entertaining start, with UAB up, 9-8, heading to the first media timeout.
UTEP regained the advantage following Givance splashing home a triple, but UAB answered immediately with its fourth 3-pointer in the contest to go back up. That started a 7-0 surge to afford the visitors a 16-11 cushion heading to the second media timeout. Solomon stopped the surge with a little hook shot in the lane. That was followed by a stop and another dunk by Onyema to cut the deficit to one (16-15, 11:02 1H).
It remained a one-point affair following an off-balanced jumper from Zachery before UAB tallied five straight to go out by six (23-17, 7:53 1H). Onyema ended the push by cleaning up his own miss. The Blazers struck back in the form of a 7-0 surge to vault ahead by double figures (30-19, 6:11 1H) and force Golding to call timeout. Onyema went to work after the stoppage, connecting on a nifty hook shot.
After UAB extended it back to double figures, Derick Hamilton used an old-fashioned 3-point play to bring the Orange and Blue within eight (32-24, 3:27 1H). UAB nudged it back to 10 (36-26, 2:08 1H) before UTEP’s scrappy defense and the fire of Solomon fueled a half-closing 8-0 surge.
The Miners forced three turnovers down the stretch to get the fastbreak game going. Solomon then provided consecutive And-1s, including a ridiculous high-arching shot off the glass that set off a roar inside the Haskins Center. After another steal, Givance found Solomon in transition for a rim-rattling alley-oop to make it a two-point tilt (36-34) heading into halftime.
The Blazers initiated the second half on an 8-2 run to put the Orange and Blue down by eight (44-36). UTEP came up with consecutive steals and scores to cut the deficit in half (44-40, 16:00 2H). After another stop, Hardy drained a triple to extend the run to seven straight.
UAB struck back in the form of an 8-0 run, which was started by consecutive treys from Walker. The Miners stopped the sequence with a dunk from Onyema on the feed from Hardy. The Blazers fired back with seven in a row, which was part of a bigger 15-2 run, making it 59-45 (12:33 2H).
A free throw by Zachery, a driving lay-up through traffic courtesy of Givance and a fadeaway jumper by Solomon resulted in a 5-0 run for UTEP to narrow the differential to single digits (59-50, 10:51 2H). The Miners continued to play hard down the stretch, but UAB wouldn’t let them back into the contest.
UTEP wraps up the two-game homestand against second-place North Texas at 7 p.m. MT Saturday.