Short-Handed UTEP Bests New Mexico at The Pit, 77-69
The UTEP men's basketball team came into Sunday's road contest against New Mexico with the most adversity that the squad has faced all year - and that's saying a lot.
Adversity punched this team in the face and they responded in a big way. They entered the game without the likes of starting point guard Jamal Bieniemy, who suffered an injury in the Kansas game off a collision with freshman forward Kevin Kalu. Freshman Jamari Sibley, who only played three minutes against UNM, didn’t practice in the past two days with the team because of the flu. Senior forward Tydus Verhoeven hadn't played in extended minutes over the course of the last three games, as he continues to deal with a back injury. Today, he played in 24 minutes off the bench and lifted the Miners with his interior defensive presence.
Somehow, the Miners (5-4) pulled off a significant 77-69 win at The Pit over the Lobos in front of 9,044 fans. This was the first Miner road with at New Mexico since the 2009 season.
The Miners dropped three of their last four games entering this game, including losses to UC Riverside (52-40), NM State (72-69) and Kansas (78-52).
"To be honest, it's been a challenge for two months," said first-year coach Joe Golding. "All the credit goes to these players. I've never seen anything like this. These guys continue to show up, compete and fight."
Keonte Kennedy, who subbed in for Bieniemy at the point guard spot, was the star of the show tonight with 22 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals in all 40 minutes of action. Souley Boum had a game-high 26 points and 19 in the second half.
The contest was largely back-and-forth in the first half. UTEP had a commanding 22-14 lead at the 9:12 mark of the first half before New Mexico went on a 9-3 run. The Miners ended the first half with a three-point lead, 33-30.
Out of the half, UTEP opened up on a 16-1 run to give them an 18-point lead (49-31) with 13:22 left in the game. The Lobos went on a 7-0 run to cut UTEP's lead to nine, 50-41. No matter for the Miners as they led a 13-3 run afterwards, which distanced themselves with a 65-45 lead at the 5:30 mark. Despite a pair of 6-0 runs by UNM, the Miners would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.
New Mexico finished the game by shooting 39.7% from the floor and 22% from 3-point range. They also accumulated four technical fouls against the Miners.
"New Mexico is tough to guard because they space the floor well and have two really talented guards," Golding said. "We were able to guard the ball screen and did a lot better job protecting the paint. We took a couple of charges."
Up next: UTEP (5-4) faces McNeese State at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 16, at the Haskins Center. It will start a three-game home stretch for the Miners, which also includes the Sun Bowl Invitational on Dec. 21.