Reliving UTEP’s Buzzer Beater and What it Could Mean Moving Forward
The Miners were down by one point to C-USA foe Rice with less than a second on the shot clock left, as first-year head coach Rodney Terry jotted down a play and hoped for the best.
Before the Miners took what would be their final chance at scoring, down 64-63 with .5 seconds on the game clock, thoughts of all the "50-50" balls bouncing the other way enter into mind. The Miners lost three straight and dropped four of their last five prior to this game against Rice. They were still winless in C-USA (0-3) and their losses felt more like close breaks for their opponents rather than UTEP outright failing in the games.
In the losing stretch, UTEP had been caught off guard against a sub-par Norfolk State team that had a hot shooting night; they battled back after long runs against UTSA in back-to-back games and ultimately fell in the end; and, they hung in with the best team in C-USA against North Texas, but their upset hopes were ripped apart after two late 3's by North Texas.
When was the ball going to bounce UTEP's way?
Ountae Campbell heaved the inbound pass down the court to Jordan Lathon, who caught it, and as time expired, he sprung up and drilled the clutchest shot of the new era of UTEP basketball.
Relive the shot here.
After review, Lathon nailed the shot just in time and the Miners (6-9, 1-3 C-USA) won their first league game, 65-64, over Rice.
“I just knew we had to get a shot up,” Lathon said in a release. “I started to make shots in the ball game and my confidence went up. I didn’t know we’d get another opportunity after [Murphy III] made that shot. It kind of hurt us. But we stayed together and we grew as a team tonight.”
Let's peel this back for a second.
Coming back from his injury that sidelined him from UTEP's first two C-USA games, freshman guard Jordan Lathon was ready to pick up where he left off in December, where he earned a C-USA Freshman of the Week honor and put up some big numbers.
Some may not have known just how much he was missed, but in his first game back against North Texas, Lathon put up nine points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Not too shabby for a freshman coming off an injured hamstring.
Then he storms through against Rice: 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Creating havoc on defense and translating his momentum on offense makes Lathon arguably one of the best two-way players on this team.
And, considering the Miners were down as much as 17 points in the game, Lathon and the young Miners rallied back to win in such an illustrious fashion.
This week, the Miners will try to get their first road win of the season (0-5) against UAB (Jan. 17) and Middle Tennessee (Jan. 19), the Miners will hope to ride the momentum from this week and not make it a celebratory hangover from their buzzer beater win.
There are currently four Miners that average in double-digits for scoring in league play, with freshman Nigel Hawkins leading the way at 16.3 points per game. His career-high night against Rice (24 points, seven boards and three 3-pointers) is what propelled him forward into the scoring mix.
The other three players that are scoring in double-figures during C-USA play include Evan Gilyard (13 ppg), Jordan Lathon (13 ppg) and Efe Odigie, who is the only player in the conference that averages a double-double (11.5 ppg and 10 rebounds).
So the magic that unfolded against Rice brings to light one thing that the Miners desperately needed during this stretch: confidence. Beating the Owls on a buzzer beater gives the Miners that extra push down the stretch to let them know that they can win these close games. Even though these "50-50" balls haven't bounced their way too much this season, they can catch a few breaks that will give them that added confidence.
Now there's a next step in this young regime: win on the road.