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UTEP finishes first C-USA road trip with 66-57 dispatch of Rice

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UTEP starts 2-0 in C-USA play by completing a weekend road sweep to open the conference slate.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Vince Hunter notched his ninth double-double of the season, and Julian Washburn scored all of his 13 points in the second half as UTEP held off a pesky Rice team 66-57 Sunday afternoon.

The Miners shot 48.1 percent from the field, hitting eight three pointers, and had four score in double figures.

Another sluggish start from the Miners in where they missed their first four shots of the game, found themselves down 6-2 early on, and trailed 16-12 after Seth Gearhart sank a triple with 8:57 left till halftime.

Earvin Morris came off the bench to score 16 points, and sparked a 18-5 UTEP run to finish the half thanks to a personal 8-0 run himself in a span of just over a minute of play during the run that gave UTEP loads of life.

Coach Tim Floyd:

"I feel really good about the two road wins,  I felt we had our best effort of the year from Julian Washburn, which was really encouraging that he played at that level.  We got solid guard play from Earvin Morris off the bench in the first half, which gave us a lift with his three threes.  He has been dynamic off the bench for us.  I like him in that role."

The Miners took a 30-21 lead at the half, and hit seven of their first eight attempts from the field to open the second half as Julian Washburn hit a three pointer to put UTEP ahead 42-26 at the 16:04 mark of the second half.

Rice was 12/23 from behind the three point line for the game, and would use a huge break to get themselves back within striking distance along with their three point shooting.

Earvin Morris was hit with a technical after partially blocking a Marcus Jackson jumper that was whistled for a foul which would help Rice take advantage of a seven minute UTEP field goal drought with four free throw chances trailing 50-42.

Three free throws later, Rice cut the lead UTEP lead to 50-45, then Jackson drilled a three pointer to stretch the Rice run to 9-0 and tighten things up as UTEP held a slim 50-48 lead with 5:31 left.

Vince Hunter would end the drought with a layup putting UTEP ahead 54-48 with 4:09 left, then the Miners turned the defense back up a notch as they charged to the finish line with a 12-0 run capped off by a Cedrick Lang bullying lay up off a feed from Washburn that gave UTEP a 62-48 going away lead with under a minute to play.

Floyd:

"I just think we made a couple of shots, we got the ball down deep to Ced on a good finish.  Vince had a couple of good finishes for us.  Earvin made a big three with 11 seconds to go out of a timeout, a corner three.  And we had defensive stops.  We didn't let Jackson touch it down the stretch and Gearhart didn't get clean looks."

UTEP blocked seven shots, four coming from Hunter who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Lang and Matt Willms closed down the paint for business on the defensive end, Lang chipped in 11 points, and five rebounds, while Willms pulled down eight rebounds and blocked two shots, though altered a number of looks.

Rice shot 35.8 percent from the field, and got 20 points out of Marcus Jackson who hit five three pointers for the second straight game.  Seth Gearhart finished with 10 points and eight rebounds for the Owls who drop to 4-9 overall and 1-1 in the early C-USA slate.

Washburn finished the afternoon 3/4 from three, and Omega Harris once again added in solid guard play with 9 points, three rebounds, and three assists.  UTEP held a 30-14 edge in points coming from the paint, though the Owls held their own on the boards as both teams tied with 31 rebounds.

A much better and cleaner offensive game from UTEP who only committed nine turnovers, and assisted 15 of their 25 field goals, though perimeter defense may have CTF a little moody despite the win.

Floyd:

"Rice is a scrappy group, we haven't faced anybody who plays harder.  We haven't played anyone who sets screens better. We haven't played two three-point shooters that were any better than Jackson and Gearhart.  So they're going to present problems. They're going to win some games in this building.

"We let them back in, but we climbed out of the hole.  Hopefully we'll learn from the mistakes that we made during that stretch run where we turned it over, didn't get back in transition and gave up transition threes."

Biggest takeaway is the different ways the Miners are finding to just get it done, things could have spiraled after the Morris technical, and during the second half charge by Rice, but the Miners continued to defend and forced Rice to throw up prayers, while closing things out on the boards and with smart offensive decisions down the stretch.

UTEP finished the matinee 8/16 from three, with Earvin Morris shooting 4/5 on the afternoon, and they also forced 12 Rice turnovers.

UTEP is now 7-1 on the season when they hold their opponents under 40 percent shooting, and grab win number 10 improving to 10-4 overall with a 2-0 start to open C-USA play.

One of the biggest games on the C-USA docket will take place next Thursday in the Don as UTEP returns home to face C-USA preseason favorite Louisiana Tech at 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time.