The UTEP Miners, after posting a double-digit win over FIU to end a three-game losing streak, will hit the road for contests at LA Tech on Thursday (Feb. 14) and at Southern Miss on Saturday (Feb. 16).
The Miners (8-15, 3-9 Conference USA) and Bulldogs (15-10, 5-7 C-USA) are set to tipoff at 5:30 p.m. MT/6:30 p.m. CT in Ruston, LA.
The Miners are looking for their first road win of the season. Though, the young squad has come close to winning few of those road contests, first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry won’t put any added pressure on his players.
“We never try to put any pressure on ourselves,” Terry said. “What’s pressure really? That’s a team who goes out is not prepared. Preparation always trumps pressure. Our staff does a great job. There’s not one thing an opponent won’t do that we don’t know or haven’t prepared for. So, there’s no pressure, you just go out and do what you practiced. At the end of the day, you have to outcompete your opponent.”
Fans can listen on KOFX 92.3 with “The Voice of the Miners” Jon Teicher and Steve Yellen. The Spanish broadcast can be heard on ESPN Deportes 1650 AM with Omar Ropele. The contest will also be televised on beIN Sports with Phil Schoen (play-by-play) and Megan Perry (analyst) calling the action.
With six regular season games remaining, including the four Conference USA “Bonus Play” contests, the Miners stand in 13th place in the league standings and are two games behind five teams (LA Tech, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Rice, Middle Tennessee) that are tied for eighth place. The top 12 teams in the league will advance to the C-USA Championships March 13-16 in Frisco.
Freshman Nigel Hawkins produced another stellar outing, shooting 7-for-11 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line while leading the Miners with 20 points in the 85-75 triumph over FIU. Hawkins also tallied two steals, two boards and a pair of assists. Also, leading the charge past the Panthers was Jordan Lathon (16 points, three assists, blocked shot, three rebounds), who shot 6-of-7 from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown. Lathon’s four three-point field goals were also a career high. UTEP’s other stellar freshman, Efe Odigie, pulled down 15 rebounds, while scoring six points with two assists and a blocked shot.
Senior Paul Thomas had a banner night, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including a 3-for-5 performance from beyond the arc. Thomas recorded nine rebounds with an assist against the Panthers. Sophomore Evan Gilyard came off the bench, played 35 minutes and scored 16 points during the winning effort.
Overall the Miners outrebounded FIU, 46-28, and forced 17 turnovers which led to 23 points off turnovers.
FIU shot 38.5 percent as UTEP’s field goal defense (41.0 percent) ranks fourth in C-USA. The Miners also rank sixth in blocked shots per game (3.7) in league games only.
LA Tech lost its third consecutive game, falling at Southern Miss, 73-71 in overtime, on Saturday night. The Bulldogs also suffered losses at FIU (Feb. 2) and at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 31). Prior to those losses, LA Tech had defeated WKU, 62-50, on Jan. 26 and Marshall, 89-80 (OT) on Jan. 24.
“[LA Tech] does a great job defending,” Terry said. “They’re one of the best scoring defense teams in our league. They hold guys to around 64 points or less. The thing for them is, being able to finish games. These guys are dangerous in transition. [DaQuan] Bracey is one of the best guards in the league. They’re athletic and they can get out. When they’re playing with momentum and scoring in transition, they can play with just about anybody.”
LA Tech is averaging 73.5 points per game, ranking fifth in C-USA, while it gives up 68.1 points per contest. Head Coach Eric Konkol has four players averaging double figures in scoring, as junior guard DaQuan Bracey leads the way at 14.1 points per game. Sophomore forward Anthony Duruji (12.4 ppg), redshirt sophomore guard JaColb Pemberton (10.4 ppg) and sophomore guard Amorie Archibald (10.4 ppg) are the other three Bulldogs averaging in double digits. Sophomore guard Exavian Christon was averaging 12.0 points per contest before an injury cut his season short after seven games.
LA Tech ranks fourth in C-USA in assists per game (13.8), while Bracey ranks sixth (4.1 assists per game).
LA Tech is the only team in C-USA with a perfect home record. The Bulldogs are 12-0 at the Thomas Assembly Center this season.
Following their contest at Southern Miss (1 p.m. MT tipoff), the Miners will find out who they will play and where during C-USA “Bonus Play.” There are five open dates (Feb. 23, Feb. 28, March 3, March 6 and March 9) for four games – two away and two in the Haskins Center.