There’s been a key struggle in each of UTEP’s 10 straight losses, and today it was a cold shooting, poor offensive second half that lifted UTSA over UTEP 67-55 in a Conference USA opener.
The Miners went 9-for-22 from the field in the second half, and 10-for-19 from the free throw line in the game as they dropped their 10th straight game, and fall to 2-11 overall.
UTSA shot just 36.5 percent from the field in the game, but went 24-for-30 from the free throw line led by Nick Billingsley who scored 17 points, and shot a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line.
It took UTEP just five seconds to get on the board after winning the opening tip, but the Runners would out score UTEP 19-7 in the next stretch to go ahead 19-9 with just under 11 minutes left in the first half.
UTEP answered with a nice 18-6 spurt as a pair of free throws from Omega Harris gave UTEP a 27-25 lead with 2:21 left until halftime.
Harris scored the last five points of the run, and scored nine first half points as UTEP took a 30-29 edge into the halftime break. It was just the third time this year UTEP led at the half thanks to a changing defensive scheme that frustrated UTSA at times.
Things were tight in the first eight minutes with neither team stretching a lead larger than four, but UTSA took control with some clutch 3-pointers, and the Miners were unable to respond.
Billinglsey hit a 3-pointer opening up a one-point UTSA lead into a 42-38 lead with 13:03 left in the game. A 3-pointer from Gino Littles then made it 47-40 UTSA, then Lucas O’Brien scored five straight including a 3-pointer giving UTSA a 55-45 lead with 3:10 left.
Dominic Artis scored 18 points, adding three rebounds, and six assists to his line, but he also committed five turnovers. Omega Harris finished his afternoon with 12 points, Matt Willms added six points, and eight rebounds.
Paul Thomas was UTEP’s leading rebounder grabbing nine boards, and he also added seven points. Jake Flaggert hit a pair of 3-pointers, but the Miners only attempted seven 3-pointers making three of those looks.
UTSA edged the Miners 34-32 on the boards. UTSA also took advantage of 17 UTEP turnovers cashing those in for 22 points off those turnovers, giving Steve Henson his first C-USA win as head coach.
It’s been 40 years since UTEP has lost 10 straight games in a season, the finger pointing on this one will point right at the Miners inability to make shots, finish around the rim, and finish at the free throw line.
UTEP will face Louisiana Tech next Thursday in Ruston, Louisiana at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.