UTEP Finds Spark in C-USA Bonus Play After Back-to-Back Wins
For the first time since the Sun Bowl Invitational, the UTEP men's basketball team (15-14, 6-10 C-USA) won back-to-back games.
Flashback to Feb. 15, when the Thundering Herd dismantled the Miners (71-61) to put UTEP in a five-game losing streak. At this point, the Miners looked done with the season, both mentally and physically.
To think, this team was in the gutter almost two weeks ago.
Back-to-back wins in Bonus Play suggests that this team still has some life; granted, the Miners beat Rice (68-62) and Southern Miss (75-56)—neither noteworthy nor significant opponents. But the team desperately needed some form of confidence and spark to get them reenergized at the tail-end of the season.
They won at home and will hit the road this week: at Middle Tennessee (Wed, 5:30 p.m.) and at Rice (Sat, 12 p.m.).
Is Daryl Edwards becoming the best version of himself?
Simply put, UTEP grad transfer Daryl Edwards has been on an absolute tear for the Miners as of late. The LSU transfer has 10-or-more points in six straight games now, including back-to-back games where he's the leading scorer. Edwards followed up his career-high 34 point performance against Rice with a lethal 26 point day against Southern Miss, including four 3-pointers.
He has been a strong leader on the court for this squad too. Edwards commands the floor exceptionally well, continues to be UTEP's best defender and might be playing at his peak abilities right now.
The Miners need every bit of this version of Edwards that they can get.
Where UTEP stands in Bonus Play
Had Middle Tennessee beaten Rice today, UTEP would have outright clinched their spot in the conference tournament. But since the Owls prevailed, they tie the Miners for the 11th seed. Southern Miss is slated at the 13-seed while Middle Tennessee is officially out of the tournament.
If UTEP wins just one of their road games, they punch their ticket to Frisco for the conference tourney. Also, the Miners have the tiebreaker advantage on each of the bottom four teams. They are clearly in the driver's seat to make the conference tournament now.
Welcome back, Jordan Lathon!
Miners sophomore guard Jordan Lathon had a really special game in UTEP's win over Southern Miss. Even though Edwards put up a team-high 26 points, Lathon still may have been the most valuable player for UTEP. Lathon flooded the stat sheet—10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, six steals and two turnovers in 38 minutes.
Lathon has embraced the starter role at the point guard for the Miners since he took over for Nigel Hawkins, who was sidelined with an injury. This was his best all-around game since his valiant effort against New Mexico. Like Edwards, the Miners need Lathon to contribute at a high level.
3-point fiasco: Miners dazzle beyond the arc again
In the midst of their five-game losing streak, UTEP was abysmal from 3-point. In fact, they were seventh-worst in the country for team 3-point percentage. But the Miners fired exceptionally well from beyond the arc against Rice and Southern Miss.
On Sunday, UTEP shot a steady 41 percent from 3-point range and had 13 made 3-pointers, which topped last week's sharp 12 3-pointer performance. They have been shooting uncharacteristically well and it's led to victories.
The con: UTEP needs help down low
Again, UTEP becomes too reliant on Bryson Williams down low. It became a bit of a problem in scoring droughts against Southern Miss and as teams continue to double-team Williams down low, the team must find offensive options down low to help him out.
Tydus Verhoeven seems to be the team's short-term solution. He's lengthy, provides sound athleticism and helps out defensively. Offensively, UTEP may turn to the likes of Efe Odigie off the bench or Anthony Tarke, neither who played Sunday against the Golden Eagles.
The extras: Where's Odigie/Hawkins/Tarke/Vila?
Eric Vila, Odigie and Tarke did not play a second in the Southern Miss game. Sophomore guard Nigel Hawkins has been out since the non-contact injury he suffered on a road swing in early February.
Vila's had a rough season with the Miners. Tarke played only a small sample with the bunch and also dealt with injuries.
The most puzzling one is Odigie, who hasn't seen anywhere near the minutes he did last year. Odigie was an All-Conference Freshman recipient that averaged a double-double. Now he's not seeing playing time with the Miners in must-win games.
(Update at 1:00 PM, Rodney Terry talked about Nigel Hawkins):