UTEP Rallies From Behind to Outlast McNeese State, 82-72
The short-handed UTEP men's basketball team trailed for 27:30 against McNeese State, but rallied back in the final 10 minutes to beat the Cowboys 82-72 on Thursday night.
In front of 5,522 fans at the Haskins Center, the Miners rallied back in the second half thanks to spurts of magic everywhere. Ze'Rik Onyema, who only played in two games this year for the Miners, provided a spark off the bench with a thunderous dunk, a significant rebound and a nice assist in just five minutes of action (+10 efficiency). Wing Jorell Saterfield came off the bench to score 13 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. Souely Boum (23) and Keonte Kennedy (20) combined for 53 points to lead the Miners in their comeback win.
Boum, who shot himself out of an early slump, scored his 1,000th career point in a UTEP uniform tonight. He is only the 35th player in the program's storied history to reach that milestone. Head coach Joe Golding said that Boum had been sick (non COVID related) and thought the team's leading scorer might miss the shootaround.
“We lost this game two weeks ago against UC Riverside," said Joe Golding following the win. "Today, they won it tonight. We’re going through a bunch. Name me a college basketball team that’s gone through more than us. We’ll take it and keep going.”
The Miners have gone through a lot of adversity through the first month and a half of the season. They started the year without Boum due to a hand injury. Then, as soon as Boum returned, he and Christian Agnew were placed in COVID-19 protocols after UTEP's road win against Pacific. As soon as Boum and Agnew returned, Jamal Bieniemy missed back-to-back games following a tough collision with freshman forward Kevin Kalu in the Kansas loss.
“Wasn’t pretty tonight," Golding said. "Not entirely our guys’ fault. We showed guts and found a way to win."
No, it's not entirely the team's fault at all. They also played this game without senior forward Tydus Verhoeven, who was coming off arguably his best game against New Mexico. Golding said it was a concussion that Verhoeven was out with.
McNeese State took advantage of UTEP's young forwards and scored 40 in the paint on Thursday. They won the rebounding margin, 34-29. And the Cowboys even shot 50% in a well-fought game.
So even though it wasn't a pretty win, this victory feels a bit more special for a Miner squad that had been punched in the face by adversity.
But, there's hope.
Bieniemy could return soon, possibly by the tip-off of the West Star Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, which starts Tuesday, Dec. 21, as the Miners face NC Central. They have an opportunity to repeat as tournament champions from the 2019 season. UTEP could also end up getting mid-year San Diego State transfer Ché Evans Jr. as C-USA play begins.
It seems like the greener paths are ahead. There's light at the end of the tunnel.
"Everyone's getting tomorrow off. I'm turning my phone off for the entire day," said Golding. "We'll recharge and regroup for Saturday and get ready for the tournament."
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