UTEP Shocks Top C-USA Team North Texas on Senior Day, 70-68
The UTEP men's basketball team found a bit of magic in the regular season finale on Saturday afternoon and prevailed with a 70-68 upset victory over top-ranked C-USA team North Texas.
The Miners will now enter the C-USA Tournament with a good deal of momentum, having finished the year 18-12 overall, 11-7 in C-USA. In front of 5,521 fans at the Haskins Center, UTEP never relinquished the lead in this matchup.
"“I just want to say how happy I am for these players… I cannot thank this community enough. For [everyone] to show up and give us their support, I can’t thank them enough," said head coach Joe Golding. "If you want to build a championship program, you have to have a home crowd."
Their 18-12 overall record is the best finish to a season since the Miners went 19-14 in 2015-16. They snapped a Mean Green 15-game win streak, which was the third-longest win streak in the NCAA going into this game. If North Texas won this game, they would have set a C-USA record for league wins in a season. UTEP stumped the top team in the conference.
“We’re getting better in close games," Golding said. "We’re playing the best of the best here. We feel used to it and I hope we have enough energy in the tank. And I think we will.”
Guard Souley Boum led the squad with 22 points, five rebounds and two steals. Keonte Kennedy also scored 17 points in his third double-digit game since he returned to the squad. Jamari Sibley came off the bench to score 11 points, while Tydus Verhoeven (9 points) and Jamal Bieniemy (8 points) chipped in with strong play.
The first half was the best basketball UTEP has played all season by far. They stormed in with a 17-2 start, including a 7-plus minute period in which they held North Texas scoreless. They created seven first half turnovers and capitalized with 11 points off UNT's mistakes. After UTEP led 17-2, UNT proceeded to outscore UTEP 12-2. Despite the little comeback, the Miners closed out the half with a 35-21 lead. Kennedy led the squad with 13 first half points.
Out of the half, the Miners went nearly six minutes without scoring a single bucket. They allowed North Texas to get the score within four points, 39-35, with under 13 minutes to go. The Miners were able to grind out the rest of the game, thanks to 20 second half points from Boum (12-of-13 from the free throw line).
Boum has now tied Roy Smallwood (1,380) to become the 10th all-time scorer in UTEP program history.
North Texas was led by Thomas Bell's 20 points. However, they made just 17-of-32 free throws in the contest. The Miners shot 49% from the floor and 46% from beyond the arc.
This was UNT's first road loss of the season.
Up next: UTEP opens the tournament as the fourth seed and will play fifth seed Old Dominion on Wednesday, March 9 at 7 p.m. in Frisco, Texas. The Miners beat the Monarchs in their matchup earlier this year, 78-70 (OT). The winner plays Middle Tennessee on Thursday, March 10 at 7 p.m.