EL PASO, TEXAS – The UTEP men’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the 2019-20 season on Tuesday at NM State. But the Miners still have the best record in Conference USA (5-1), and they’ll look to resume their winning ways on Saturday when they open a three-game homestand against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-6) at 7 p.m. in the Haskins Center.
“I’ve been saying this all along, we haven’t played our best basketball yet,” UTEP coach Rodney Terry said. “We’re a better shooting team than what we’ve shown to this point in the season. As our guards continue to get better and get better, then our team will get better and improve as well. This team has a high ceiling in terms of our growth and where we’re going to be able to go this year. We’re still learning what it takes to win, both on the road and at home.”
The Miners may have one mark in the loss column, but they’re still unbeaten in the friendly confines of the Bear’s Den (5-0) with an average margin of victory of 15 points. UTEP is 5-0 at home to open a season for just the third time in the 2000’s. The Miners started 8-0 in the DHC during the 2003-04 campaign (en route to an NCAA Tournament appearance), and 6-0 in 2007-08. UTEP is one of four remaining C-USA teams with unblemished home marks, along with FIU (4-0), LA Tech (4-0) and WKU (3-0).
UTEP junior forward Bryson Williams is on a tear, scoring 33 points (versus East Central) and 27 points (at NM State) in the Miners’ last two games. He is the first UTEP player to produce 27 points or more in consecutive contests since Randy Culpepper during the 2010-11 season. Williams is averaging 19.5 ppg (second in C-USA) and his .733 field goal percentage rates third nationally. He has added a new dimension to his game in 2019-20 as he has made 6-of-9 three-point attempts; in his first two seasons at Fresno State (2016-18), Williams was a combined 1-for-4 from downtown.
Sophomore guard Souley Boum was the other Miner to score in double figures at NM State (11 points) behind a 6-for-6 effort at the foul line. He ran his streak of consecutive made free throws to 17, which is the longest by a UTEP player since Evan Gilyard hit 19 in a row over the course of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns. Omega Harris made 22 straight foul shots during the 2017-18 season. As a team, the Miners have been stellar at the charity stripe in 2019-20 after going 14-for-15 at NM State to raise their seasonal mark to 76.2 (third in C-USA).
The Miners will look for a more balanced offensive effort against UAPB after three players (Williams, Boum, Daryl Edwards) accounted for 47 of the team’s 56 points at NM State. On the defensive end, UTEP will simply look to remain solid, as its opponent field goal percentage (.378) and opponent scoring average (61.7 ppg) both rank among the C-USA leaders.
UAPB has played six of its first seven games on the road, with losses to USF (70-41), Gonzaga (110-60), Grand Canyon (67-54), Kansas State (62-51), Pittsburgh (66-41) and Tulsa (72-39). Junior guard Shaun Doss (12.3 ppg) and junior forward Markedric Bell (10.9 ppg) are the team’s leading scorers, although Doss has missed the last four games due to injury. UAPB tied for third in the SWAC last season (10-8 record) and returned two starters for 2019-20. The Golden Lions have two preseason second team All-SWAC players in Doss and junior center Terrance Banyard (7.3 ppg/5.0 rpg).
After Saturday, the Miners will take a break for finals week before returning to “The Don” to participate in the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational. UTEP will face North Carolina A&T in opening round action on Monday, Dec. 16 (7 p.m.), and either Kent State or UC Irvine on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at a time to be determined.
Forward Isaiah Rhyanes will become the latest Miner to earn his degree when he graduates from the University next weekend.