EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It took awhile, but UTEP finally came alive in time to beat McNeese, 82-72, on Thursday night at the Don Haskins Center.
Trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half and 38-34 at halftime, the Miners outscored the Cowboys by 14 points in the second half, ratcheting up their defensive pressure in the second stanza.
UTEP (6-4) forced 17 turnovers and scored 28 points off of those McNeese (3-8) errors. They also limited the Cowboys to just 2-8 shooting from behind the three-point line, while hitting on 59% of their shots after halftime.
UTEP was without starters Jamal Bieniemy and Tydus Verhoeven, both on the injured list with concussions. Couple that with a few players dealing with non-COVID illnesses and the Miners are like the walking wounded right now. Fortunately for head coach Joe Golding’s squad, it didn’t matter.
“We were just out of sorts all night at both ends,” Golding said. “Credit to McNeese. But these guys keep showing up each day. We’ve found a way to win two games with two starters out. We’ve got to keep plugging along and keep working.”
Souley Boum poured in 23 points (17 in the second half) to join the 1,000-career point club at the school, Keonte Kennedy notched his second straight game with 20+ points and Jorell Saterfield (13 points) provided a spark off the bench.
Golding also made a point of crediting Ze’Rik Onyema for his role in the win. Though he played only five minutes, Onyema was a plus-10 and was on the floor when the Miners made their biggest second half runs.
“We were going to keep fighting and as frustrating as it was at times we found a way to win a basketball game,” Golding said. “Big credit of that to Z (Ze’rik Onyema) who played four minutes and 51 seconds but he came in with juice and completely changed the game. I thought he was the MVP of the game. He got the opportunity and made the most of it.”
Coming off by far the best win of Golding’s short tenure in El Paso on the road Sunday at New Mexico, the Miners were flat at the outset of the game, trailing by 12 points late in the first half. A 10-2 run before the break made things manageable in the second half, but UTEP still had to fight back from an eight-point deficit with under 14 minutes to go in the game.
The Miners have now won two straight games over Division I opponents for the first time all season. UTEP is off until next Tuesday when it faces NC Central in the first game of the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational. The winner of that game will play either Bradley or Sam Houston for the tournament championship next Wednesday.