UTEP 68, UCR 56: UTEP Shrugs Off Shooting Woes, Defense Hangs On for Win
Amid early shooting woes and being without leading scorer Evan Gilyard (18.8 points per game), the Miners played hard-nosed defense and rode out freshmen forward Efe Odigie's stellar performance—24 points and 11 rebounds, his fourth career double-double for UTEP—for their 68-56 win over UC Riverside Sunday afternoon.
The win improved the Miners to 4-5 on the year overall and dropped UC Riverside to 3-8 overall.
And the game was a good challenge for the hungry Miners, who have steadily improved each game. UTEP only started to break away with the win toward the final minutes of the game, where the Miners hit late runs and led as much as 12 by the end.
In the first half, the Miners struggled to get a consistent offensive production out of their eight-man rotation. They started off with a comfortable lineup made up of Efe Odigie, Jordan Lathon, Paul Thomas, Nigel Hawkins and Ountae Campbell, who replaced the injured Evan Gilyard in the starting lineup.
UTEP's defense created havoc early on for the Highlanders, forcing five fouls in the first six minutes of play.
But it was their offense that held them back in the first half. They shot 35 percent from the floor, 0 percent (0-for-5) from 3-point range and 50 percent at the charity stripe.
Fortunately for the Miners, though, they caused 11 turnovers on defense and held UC Riverside to shooting 29 percent FG, 22 percent from 3-point range and 25 percent from the free throw line.
Odigie led the Miners at the half with 10 points and nine boards, followed by Hawkins with six points. UTEP was +3 in the turnover margin (11-8) and +2 in the rebound margin (20-18) at the half.
Coming out of the half, improved greatly on their shot selections and shooting percentage. They shot 52.2 percent (12-of-23) from the floor and 36.4 percent (4-for-11) from beyond range.
Early in the second half, however, UTEP was 1-for-13 from beyond 3-point range. The Miners, who were second in C-USA for 3-point efficiency (.373), struggled shooting 3's on Sunday until Campbell, Magee and Lathon each put up some 3's in the second.
UC Riverside cut UTEP's lead to one point early in the second half, but the Miners were able to break away late on a 12-3 run to close out the game.
Odigie's 24 points and 11 rebounds were complimented by a team-high three steals. Lathon finished the day with 14 points, four boards and three steals as well, followed by Thomas and Hawkins, who chipped in nine points each.
As a team, UTEP shot 42.6 percent from the floor, 23.5 percent from 3-point range and 70.6 percent at the free throw line. They allowed UC Riverside to shoot 47.6 percent (10-for-21) from beyond the arc, but forced 20 turnovers and had nine steals.
Gilyard's injury will continue to be evaluated by Terry and the trainers, but per Terry, he is optimistic to have Gilyard back before their next game.
Next up, UTEP will turn its focus on the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational (Dec. 21-22), where they will take on Norfolk State and either Wyoming or East Tennessee State on Friday and Saturday, respectively.