The UTEP Miners will play at Middle Tennessee, which handed UTSA its first Conference USA loss this week, on Saturday in Murfreesboro. The Miners and Blue Raiders are set to tip off at 4 p.m. MT in the Murphy Center.
The Miners (6-10, 1-4 C-USA), after taking a 13-2 lead early in the ball game, fell at UAB, 76-63, on Thursday, while the Blue Raiders (4-14, 1-4 C-USA) went up by as many as 21 points in the second half against the league-leading Roadrunners and pulled out the 89-86 upset. MT, in the process, ended a 13-game losing skid.
“[Middle Tennessee] is a similar type team to what we saw [against UAB] and a team that I’ve watched during the year. I look at bodies around C-USA when assessing what we need to have to be competitive in this league and get done what we want to get done,” first-year UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said.
After UTEP took a 32-29 lead at UAB, its second half struggles continued on Thursday at Bartow Arena, as the bigger-bodied Blazers outscored the Miners 47-31 during the second period. Overall, the Miners allowed a season-high 52.7 field goal percentage, while tallying a season-low 26 rebounds.
Evan Gilyard got off to a fast start, scoring 21 (career high) of his 25 points during the first half. Gilyard snagged a trio of steals to lead the Miners, while connecting on 4-of-8 three-point buckets. The sophomore ranks ninth in the league in points per game (17.4), while leading the circuit with a 43.2 three-point shooting percentage.
Efe Odigie registered his seventh career double-double after scoring 10 points with 10 boards versus UAB. The freshman added an assist and a blocked shot. Odigie remains the lone C-USA player averaging a double-double on the season (14.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg), while he leads the league in rebounding. With his next double-double, Odigie will tie the school freshman record of eight set by Terry White during the 1978-79 season.
Nigel Hawkins added 17 points on a career high in made three pointers (5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc) against the Blazers. Hawkins also led UTEP with four assists and tallied a steal. The freshman is averaging a team-high 16.4 points per game in conference games only.
Freshman Jordan Lathon was held scoreless in the first half on Thursday, but finished with seven points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists.
The Blue Raiders used a trio of 20-point scorers to outrace the Roadrunners, as sophomore guard Donovan Sims led the way with 24 points on 9-of-9 free-throw shooting. Redshirt junior guard Antonio Green put up 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting (5-5 FT) and senior forward James Hawthorne chipped in with 20 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting.
“Again, this looked like the team we played last night and they’re a team that will show a lot of 1-3-1 [zone defense],” Terry said. “Then on offense they’re going to put their head down and try to get to the glass, play in the paint and be physical rebounding with their big bodies.”
Green leads the team at 18.3 points per game, while ranking fifth in C-USA. He ranks second in C-USA and 18th nationally with 151 three-point field goal attempts and ranks third in total three-pointers made (51). Green also ranks second in the league and 25th nationally with an 89.1 free-throw percentage. Senior Karl Gamble, a 6-9 forward, leads MT in rebounding (6.5 rpg), while contributing 7.9 points per contest.
Middle Tennessee is one of the better rebounding squads in C-USA. The Blue Raiders rank third in offensive rebounds per game (11.4), while rating fourth in total rebounds per game (38.1).
MT’s -9.7 scoring margin ranks last in C-USA, while its scoring offense (66.3) ranks second to last. The Blue Raiders’ 36.5 three-point field goal defense also ranks second to last in the league.