UTEP Slides Past Rice, Earns 4th Seed in C-USA Tournament
Like first-year head coach Joe Golding says, "find a way to win."
The UTEP men's basketball team, who allowed Rice to lead for 18 minutes of the game, pushed past a back-and-forth second half and found a way to beat Rice, 70-67, to complete the series sweep on the season.
With the win, the Miners locked in the fourth seed of the C-USA Tournament and will face Old Dominion (fifth seed) in the first round. The winner will face Middle Tennessee in the C-USA Tournament.
But there's still basketball to play in the regular season and for Golding, the win was a credit to the team fighting hard to the end.
“This team has been through a bunch, and I’m really proud of them,” Golding said. “They just find a way. I’m glad we could get it done tonight at home. They came back and fought back. There’s no question the crowd helped us win the game tonight. If the crowd was not like it was with the energy, passion and the juice in here, we don’t win that basketball game."
The Miners opened up the half trailing 5-0, but rallied back on a 13-0 run. They led for 15:53 of the first half and looked strong all the way up until the final five minutes. The Miners led by as much as 12 points (30-18), yet allowed a 13-2 run to finish the half. Rice was able to tie the game by the end of the first, 34-34. The Miners were led by nine points from Keonte Kennedy and five assists from Jamal Bieniemy.
Rice led a charge out of the half and extended their 13-2 run from the first half into a 20-4 run. The Owls built their lead by as much as 11 points in the second half, but the Miners found a way to claw back into the game. Thanks to late production from their guards Souley Boum, Keonte Kennedy and Jamal Bieniemy, the Miners were able to hold on in the end.
The UTEP defense held Rice to no field goals for the last 7:28 of the game.
This is the first winning season for the program in C-USA play since they ended 12-6 in 2016-17. Golding joins only Don Haskins (1961-62), Doc Sadler (2004-05) and Tim Floyd (2010-11) as coaches with a winning record during their first year at the helm, per the athletic department.
Point guard Jamal Bieniemy flirted with a triple-double, totaling 12 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Keonte Kennedy came off the bench and scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed four rebounds while swiping three steals. Boum wrapped up the scoring efforts with 12 points and five rebounds. UTEP shot 53.7% from the floor, including 43.8% from 3-point range.
Rice was led by Carl Pierre, who totaled a whopping 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting. They out-rebounded the Miners, 34-27, and forced nine UTEP turnovers.
Up next: UTEP will close out the season against North Texas, which is riding a 15-game win streak, on Senior Day.