EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — It’s now or never for the UTEP men’s basketball team. The Miners (6-6, 2-4 Conference USA) have lost three consecutive conference game and are sliding in the standings, needing a much better performance this weekend against LA Tech than they got the previous weekend against North Texas.
The Miners lost a pair of games to the Mean Green, including Friday night’s debacle in Denton where the Miners scored just 33 points, tied for the lowest point total in program history during the shot-clock era.
It might have been one of the worst shooting performances in program history, but the Miners aren’t wavering as they get set to host the Bulldogs (11-4, 4-2 C-USA) on Friday and Saturday night at the Don Haskins Center.
“It’s a learning process and this team has a lot of new faces. We are still learning how to gel and all of that,” said junior forward Tydus Verhoeven. “You have to have these games — last week was really tough for us, but we learned a lot. You have to take learning from winning, but you also have to take learning from the losses too.”
The conference as a whole has struggled with the adopted back-to-back schedules to limit travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been just five sweeps through the first three weeks of conference play. UAB (10-2, 3-1 C-USA) and North Texas (7-5, 3-1) are the only two teams in the league with one conference loss, the rest of field has lost multiple games.
“Conference is a long race — it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. It’s how you’re playing your best basketball at the right time,” said head coach Rodney Terry. “They’re only going to take one team from our league, so, you have to position yourself in the best position possible to have an opportunity to be able to do that — to be that one team.”
UTEP leads C-USA and ranks 10th nationally in turnovers per game (10.2). The Miners also lead the league in fewest turnovers (123) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3). Jamal Bieniemy paces the conference and ranks 21st nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.3) and ranks fourth in C-USA averaging 4.8 assists per game. Souley Boum (16.1 ppg) and Bryson Williams (14.8 ppg) lead the Miners in scoring through 12 games this season.
Junior forward Efe Odigie is expected to miss both games after taking a hard fall in practice. According to Terry, Odigie is currently in concussion protocol.
LA Tech has been one of the top rebounding teams in the nation, leading C-USA and ranking ninth nationally in total rebounds (589). The Bulldogs lead the league in defensive rebounds per game (29.5), and rank third in rebounds per game (39.3). LA Tech also paces C-USA with 324 free-throw attempts, while its three-point percentage defense (29.9) ranks third in the conference.
A pair of senior guards are the reason LA Tech is off to a solid start — Kalob Ledoux leads the team in scoring (12.4 ppg). Amorie Archibald ranks third in scoring (10.8 ppg) and ranks second in assists (37). Sophomore Cobe Williams has a team-high 47 assists this season, while fellow sophomore Isaiah Crawford is the second leading scorer (10.9 ppg) on the team. Freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr., who possesses great size standing at 6-7, 270 pounds, leads LA Tech in rebounding (6.5 rpg).
LA Tech is 15-11 all-time against the Miners. UTEP has lost two straight and five of their last seven meetings to the Bulldogs.
Tip-off on Friday is set for 7 p.m. MT at ‘The Don.’ Saturday’s start time is 6 p.m. MT