UTEP freshman Matt Willms had one of his best performances of the season, and the Miners jumped out to an early lead before running away from the Mean Green 74-54 Sunday in Denton.
The Miners got going early with production from their entire starting five, and jumped out to a quick 15-2 lead just 5:16 into the contest. UNT would use a 10-3 run to get back to within six at 18-12 minutes later, but that would be as close as they would come the rest of the way.
A 6-0 run quickly pushed the Miners' lead back into double digits, and that run turned into a 12-2 spurt that put UNT in an 18 point hole they wouldn't be able to get out of. By the half, the Miners would hold on to a 36-21 lead.
That lead would stay around 15 during the opening moments of the second half, but by the 14:22 mark, a pair of Vince Hunter free throws would give the Miners their largest lead of the day at 46-27.
The Miners would continue to expand on that lead, and would eventually lead by as many as 25 at 74-49 after a Jake Flaggert made free throw with 1:29 to play. The Mean Green would tack on a couple baskets in the closing moments, and the Miners would walk away with the 74-54 victory.
Matt Willms led the way with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. C.J. Cooper broke out of a mini slump, going for 13 points and 4 rebounds on 5-8 shooting, and Vince Hunter finished the day with 11 points and 8 rebounds. John Bohannon and Julian Washburn finished with 9 points apiece.
Armani Flannigan led the way for the Mean Green, going for 15 points on 5-8 shooting. Jordan Williams notched a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but shot a poor 2-14 from the field. Maurice Anieflok finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds.
The Miners were able to get back on track defensively, holding North Texas to just 25.8% shooting, while knocking in 52.1% of their field goals. UTEP also dominated on the boards, holding an overall 46-33 advantage, but the Mean Green did haul in 15 offensive boards to just 8 for the Miners.
One area of concern for the Miners was their inability to take care of the basketball. They committed 19 turnovers to just 9 for the Mean Green. That certainly cannot happen if the Miners want to be successful come tourney time.
UTEP Coach Tim Floyd had this to say following the win:
"I thought we really played unselfish tonight. We moved the ball and played inside and out. We got really good guard play from C.J. and Julian out front, and I might add that Jake Flaggert played his best game as a Miner. We had a real concentrated, collective effort defensively and our guys spearheaded that by getting back on defense and not allowing North Texas to do what they love to do, which is play in the open floor and get transition layups."
While this was definitely a great win for the Miners, they've got to continue to improve their play as the move into the conference tournament. The offensive rebounds in this one aren't too much of a concern, as that will happen when a team misses 49 shots, but it cannot become a trend to allow teams so many second chance opportunities.
Also, the Miners must be able to take better care of the ball. Of course, they're playing shorthanded at the guard position, but C.J. and Julian are certainly good enough athletes to bring the ball up against any pressure, and our bigs must be able to make better decisions with the ball.
If the Miners are able to dominate on the glass, as they should, and take better care of the basketball, they'll have a great opportunity to win the upcoming Conference USA tournament.
Today was a great win, and it shows a lot about this team following their first 'losing streak' since late November. It was definitely a concern that this team was running out of gas, but they made that clear today that is not the case.
Up next, the Miners will wrap up the regular season slate with a road match against UTSA on Thursday. The Miners will need to win that game, and get a little help from either Middle Tennessee or Louisiana Tech to be able to finish in the top four of the league, and earn a double bye in the C-USA tourney. Tipoff for the game against UTSA is slated for 6:00 p.m. MT.
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