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UTEP shows improvement in 85-75 win over Western Michigan

NCAA Basketball: Charleston Classic-Western Michigan vs Texas El-Paso Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

In a consolation bracket tournament game in November with a new gallery of newcomers finding their niches, you just want to see small improvements.

Friday afternoon UTEP did just that, plus they also got some stellar guard play in the process in an encouraging 85-75 bounce back win against Western Michigan in the Charleston Classic.

After a slow start, Dominic Artis played like a seasoned senior point guard stuffing the stat sheet with another near triple-double. The senior from the California Bay Area scored 20 points, hauled in 10 rebounds, and dished out nine assists in 38 minutes.

Omega Harris was also solid adding 17 points, to go along with three rebounds, and four assists with only one turnovers in 37 minutes of action.

Matt Willms was uber-effective in one of his best showings as a Miner scoring a career high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and also grabbed seven rebounds in 29 minutes.

Artis and the Miner guard's constantly found Willms in easy scoring spots, giving the big man some easy finishes with textbook team basketball.

It was a fast paced opening 12 minutes of the game that saw Jake Flaggert finally get going from long distance to give UTEP a major boost early.

Flaggert would hit three first half, 3-pointers, scoring all-nine of his first half points early which gave UTEP a 15-8 lead just five and half minutes into the game.

But WMU was patient and efficient at times on offense despite shooting just 40 percent in the first half, and kept things very close.

The Miners controlled the lead for almost 15 minutes in the opening half, but seven points was their largest lead after Flaggert's third 3-pointer of the half.

UTEP showed a heavy emphasis of isolating Matt Willms down low early as Willms scored eight points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting to help UTEP take a 37-32 lead into the halftime break.

Balanced scoring, and active defense were positive themes from the Miners in the first half. Omega Harris and Dominic Artis each scored seven first half points, and were very active on the defensive end.

UTEP shot 52 percent in the opening half, and held their lead well into early portions of the second half.

But, both squads went blow for blow in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Tucker Haymond would tie things up at 51-all via a clutch 3-pointer with 12:59 left in the game, then UTEP went on an impressive run.

UTEP got a fast break layup from Willms assisted by Artis, then a big-time 3-pointer from Deon Barrett near the top of the key capped off a 10-1 run giving UTEP a 64-52 lead at the 9:26 mark of the second half.

But the Broncos answered with a 10-0 spurt to trim UTEP's lead to 64-62 with 6:23 left after the Miners came up empty on four straight possessions.

Then UTEP's guards took over, and fed Matt Willms who shut things down.

Willms would score nine of UTEP's next 13 points, while Artis added the missing four points, and assisted on two of Willms' buckets, and also set up Willms on two trips to the foul line which gave the Miners a 77-64 lead after Artis made a pair of free throws with 2:15 left.

WMU tried to extend the game in the final two minutes by turning it into a foul-fest, but UTEP showed great poise, and went 23-of-30 from the free throw line in the game.

Flaggert finished with 13 points, hitting four of UTEP's eight 3-pointers on the afternoon.

The Miners controlled the glass for the most part, finishing with a 37-29 edge. They held WMU to just 41.9 percent shooting percentage from the floor, and outscored the Broncos 32-18 inside the paint.

It was an encouraging win a lot of levels as UTEP bounced back from Thursday's disaster, but also a few identities started to show.

Guard play was the obvious one, but the Miners played with an effective havoc like tempo on defense, and Willms was the beneficiary of great ball movement which led to an efficient 58.7 percent shooting percentage for the Miners in the game, as UTEP scored on 54.8 percent of their 73 possessions in the ball game.

UTEP will now await either Boise State or Mississippi State for the fifth place spot in the Charleston Classic.

That game will be Sunday afternoon on ESPN3.

The Miners pickup their first win against a D-1 opponent this season, and while there is still work to be done, Friday was an encouraging day for the UTEP basketball team.