It wasn't the most perfectly played game, but it was pretty damn close, and exactly what the Miners needed. After struggling away from home for the entire non-conference slate, UTEP opened up the Conference USA schedule with a huge road win over Tulane. And, they did it by overcoming two big hurdles
First, the Miners were able to win the rebounding battle (33-31), something they've only done three times this season. And second, they were able to come out hot, and jump out to an early lead, also something they hadn't done much of this year.
The Miners enjoyed early leads of 5-0 and 11-2, and despite a few pushes from the Green Wave, they maintained their composure, and lead, and strolled away with a 66-57 victory. They actually led by as many as 15 in the second half, before a late surge by the Wave closed the gap a bit.
For the game, the Miners were able to shoot 50% from the field, while holding the Green Wave to only 33%. That marks the fourth time in five games that the Miners have held their opponent under 40% shooting for the game.
Defensively, the Miners did a great job of shutting down an explosive team. And of course, Julian Washburn was his usual self, holding Tulane forward Josh Davis, who averages 18 points and 10 rebounds a game, to only 9 points and 9 rebounds.
The team did a great job of sharing the basketball, having 15 assists on their 24 field goals. And, they also did a great job of protecting the basketball, as they committed only nine turnovers in the contest.
To top off the solid team effort that was put on, the Miners had some great individual efforts as well. As mentioned, Julian Washburn held Davis in check, while scoring 12 points and pulling down 6 rebounds himself.
Konner Tucker got back to his hot shooting, finishing the game with 14 points, while going 4 of 7 from three point range. Jacques Streeter finished with 10 points and 6 assists, and McKenzie continues to come into form, finishing with 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists with no turnovers.
Cedrick Lang, who eventually fouled out, also played a big role. He scored 8 points and grabbed 5 boards in only 18 minutes of action. And perhaps, the biggest of efforts came from freshman Chris Washburn Jr.
After sitting for the first 37 minutes of the contest, Washburn was thrust into the game in the midst of a late Tulane surge. Cold as can be, Washburn picked up an offensive board and put back on a missed free throw, and then calmly drained two free throws on the next possession, both times after Tulane had cut the lead to five.
In the end, this young team showed just how much they've grown throughout the non-conference run. They were able to go on the road, to play one of the hottest teams in Conference USA, and were able to come away with the first win a visitor has gotten in that building all season.
If last night was any indication as to how this team will play for the rest of this season, good things are in store. Guys like Moore and Tucker and still settling into the lineup, and others like Washburn and Streeter continue to be their consistent selves. As time goes on, the team will only get better, and should be a force in C-USA.