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Willms, UTEP pick apart Marshall 91-68

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NCAA Basketball: Texas-El Paso at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP’s game plan was simple, and the execution was top notch as the Miners set a blue print in slowing down the high powered Marshall offensive attack.

Play smart, slow the pace down, move the ball, rebound, pound the paint, and let Matt Willms do his thing we’re simple pillars of an upset.

All that, and more came together and added up to a 91-68 road win at Marshall, snapping an eight game road losing streak dating back to last season.

Matt Willms picked up right where he left off from Thursday, scoring 12 of UTEP’s first 18 points helping UTEP jump out to a 18-6 lead six minutes into the game.

Willms started 6-for-6 from the floor, UTEP started 10-for-15 and led 22-10 at the under 12 minute timeout in the first half.

It would take Marshall almost nine minutes to make their first 3-pointer, but Austin Loop’s 3-pointer would be answered by a 3-pointer from Deon Barrett with 10:34 left until halftime with the Miners leading 25-14.

Dominic Artis was also playing at a high level, scoring 10 first half points to go along with five rebounds, and his layup with 4:41 left until halftime stretched UTEP’s lead to 37-22.

The Miners ended the half shooting 60.6 percent from the floor, and took a 45-35 lead into the half. 34 of UTEP’s first half points came from inside the paint, while Marshall shot 2-for-11 from long distance, but the Herd did attempt 20 free throws making 13 of those.

UTEP also out rebounded the Herd 22-13 in the opening half and the early 15-point lead marked UTEP’s largest winning margin on the road so far this season.

Foul trouble, and a few questionable calls going against UTEP were factors early on in the second half as a three-point play from Terrance Thompson cut the UTEP lead to 46-43 just three minutes into the second half.

Despite a fourth foul, then subsequent technical and fifth foul on UTEP’s Paul Thomas, UTEP scored four in a row, weathering the storm, and increased their lead to 52-45 two minutes later.

UTEP continued to played with a high level of poise during the chippy stretch as Artis hit a jumper, followed up by a wide open layup for Kelvin Jones extending the UTEP lead to 62-49 with 11:49 left in the game.

Willms continued his bid for C-USA player of the week with another layup putting UTEP ahead 72-58, then Artis followed that up with a 3-pointer which fueled a 16-4 UTEP run that saw UTEP lead 80-58 with three minutes left in the game.

Willms finished with 25 points, and seven rebounds, and shot 11-for-15 from the field a few hours after scoring 27 points against WKU on Thursday. Dominic Artis went 11-for-16 from the field, scoring 24 points, and hauled in 11 rebounds.

The Herd came into the game having made 32 3-pointers combined in their last two games, but Marshall could not buy a 3-pointer, shooting 3-for-25 from long distance in the game. In turn, UTEP owned the boards with a 45-29 edge, Jake Flaggert also added seven rebounds.

Four Miners scored in double figures as Omega Harris added 13 points, and Paul Thomas scored 11 points before he fouled out. Everyone who played for UTEP scored, and seven of the nine in UTEP’s rotation had an assist.

UTEP ended the evening shooting 57.8 percent from the field, but more importantly went 16-for-20 from the free throw line. They also outscored Marshall 60-30 in points in the paint fueled by Willms, and UTEP’s slashing guard duo of Artis, and Harris.

Despite Marshall’s struggles from long distance, they did attempt 37 free throws, but made only 25. Terrance Thompson scored 25 points, but the Miners held Jon Elmore to 2-for-12 shooting, and just 11 points.

Tim Floyd drew up a solid game plan which the Miners bought well into, and executed at a high level. UTEP moves back to 4-4 in conference play, and improve to 6-14 overall.

After a road trip split, UTEP will play their next four at home starting with UAB next Thursday night in El Paso.

This UTEP team is far from a complete product, but the incremental improvements shown over the past few weeks is certainly encouraging heading into a crucial part of the C-USA schedule.