ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (KTSM) – With its backs against the wall, UTEP put together by far its best performance of the Joe Golding era on Sunday.
UTEP (5-4) used a 16-1 run to open the second half to defeat New Mexico (6-5) 77-69 at The Pit in Albuquerque on Sunday, UTEP’s first win over the Lobos on the road since Jan. 2, 2009, nearly 13 years ago.
Playing without starting point guard Jamal Bieniemy due to a concussion he suffered on Tuesday vs. Kansas, UTEP was led by Souley Boum’s game-high 26 points. Meanwhile, Keonte Kennedy played one of his most complete games in a Miners’ uniform, tying a career-high with 22 points and corralling eight rebounds.
After getting blown out by 8th-ranked Kansas, head coach Joe Golding said the last week was very difficult for UTEP. With Bieniemy out with the concussion and forward Jamari Sibley limited in his availability due to an illness, the Miners entered facing adversity and responded with flying colors.
“I’m just extremely proud of that group,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “We’ve had a ton of adversity all year, maybe more so tonight than we’ve had yet. We had to come up with a new game plan in two days, and they came out and just showed incredible toughness. They weren’t scared or afraid of the moment. They just kept believing in the process. All the credit goes to them.”
UTEP led by as many as eight points in the first half, holding on late in the frame for a 33-30 halftime advantage. To open the second half, the Miners took off.
UTEP began the second stanza with a 16-1 run to open up a 49-31 lead. Although New Mexico made a couple runs to cut the lead to single digits, it was the big run to start the half that kept UTEP in front and the hostile crowd at The Pit out of the game.
“I thought our guys did a great job of coming out and executing offensively to keep the crowd out of the game and that’s something you have to do at The Pit,” said Golding. “I thought our guys did a great job of keeping the crowd out of the game.”
UTEP managed to shoot 43% and held the Lobos under a 40% clip, while also forcing 16 New Mexico turnovers.
The Miners managed to score 24 points off of those 16 Lobos turnovers, which ended up being the biggest key to the game.
“New Mexico is tough to guard because they space the floor well and have two really talented guards,” Golding said. “We were able to guard the ball screen and did a lot better job protecting the paint. We took a couple of charges.”
After a tough pair of losses to New Mexico State and Kansas, UTEP needed a feel-good win to move forward in nonconference play. Although Golding wouldn’t call it the biggest win of his time in El Paso, the Miners’ players weren’t afraid to underscore how important it was.
“It was a big win for us, especially coming into The Pit and missing a couple of players,” said Kennedy. “We just fought defensively, kept fighting and kept working. It was a big-time W.”
“(Golding) is the most positive coach I’ve ever had and through all these circumstances that we’ve been through it’s been tough, but he preaches that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that if we keep working, it’ll pay off,” added Boum. “We came into the game thinking we had a chance to win and we executed the game plan.”
Next up for UTEP is a date with McNeese State on Thursday at home at the Don Haskins Center at 7 p.m.