Efe Odigie registered his fourth double-double (career-high 24 points, 11 rebounds) of his young UTEP career, while Jordan Lathon (14 points) came up his third consecutive double-digit performance to lead the Miners past UC Riverside, 68-56, on Sunday afternoon in the Don Haskins Center.
After UCR (3-8) got within three points (53-50) on a pair of made free throws by Dikymbe Martin with just over five minutes remaining in the contest, the Miners (4-5) stepped up on defense and used a 15-6 run to end the contest.
“We were expecting a hard-fought game against a very well coached UCR team,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “Coach [David] Patrick and I go way back and he’s trying to build a program over there one that’s going to battle every night. His team played extremely hard and shot the ball great today.”
The Miners took a 22-17 halftime lead, as the 17 points were a season-low allowed by the Miners during the first half. The Highlanders took a one-point lead at the 16:59 mark in the game (5-4) and from there Miners tightened up on defense and led the entire game from that point on.
Overall, UCR shot over 41 percent (20-48) from the field.
“I thought our guys defended well against a team that can shoot the basketball and can rebound the basketball as well as they do,” Terry said. “I thought we did a nice job in the first half, it wasn’t pretty, but we held our own. We struggled a bit late in the first half when they went into their zone defense. We haven’t seen the zone all that much this year so that will be something we will work on in the future.”
Odigie scored in double-digit figures for the ninth time to open his UTEP career, the most by a UTEP freshman since at least the 1960’s. Odigie went 8-for-14 from the field, including 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Lathon scored 12 of his 14 points during the second half, shooting 3-for-4 from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Overall, Lathon went 7-of-10 from the free throw line, while dishing out four assists and pulling down four boards.
Paul Thomas scored seven of his nine points during the second half, while the senior tallied five rebounds and three assists. Kobe Magee led the Miners with six dimes and connected on the three-point bucket in the second half. Ountae Campbell, who made his first start in a UTEP uniform and played a season-high 36 minutes, scored a career-high seven points, grabbed a pair of rebounds and recorded an assist. Nigel Hawkins chipped in with nine points (5-6 from free throw line) and three rebounds.
The Miners shot a season-high 70.6 percent from the charity stripe (24-34) and outrebounded UCR, 35-30. Martin led UCR with 19 points and Dragan Elkaz scored 15 points.
Wyoming and East Tennessee State will open the tournament with a 5 p.m. contest.