Facing a new heap of adversity after losing leading scorer Keith Frazier to a leave of absence, the UTEP Miners turned in perhaps their most complete effort of the season in an 80-62 ambush of Rice on Saturday in the Haskins Center.
UTEP (6-8, 1-1 C-USA) completed a 5-2 December by dominating the Owls over the final 20 minutes. The Miners shot 71.4 percent in the second half, when they made 8-of-10 threes and outrebounded the Owls 18-13. UTEP outscored Rice (3-12, 0-2 C-USA) by the score of 51-31 over the final 20 minutes, erasing a 31-29 deficit at the intermission.
With Frazier out, the Miners needed all hands on deck and they got contributions up and down the roster. With Omega Harris (five points), Paul Thomas (four) and Matt Willms (four) combining for 13 points, three newcomers – Kobe Magee, Isiah Osborne, Trey Wade – all tallied at least 12 points each. They combined for 43 of UTEP’s 80 points, connecting on 17-of-25 shots and 9-of-13 three pointers.
Wade led the way with 16 points (7-for-11 FGs) and seven rebounds. Osborne scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and Magee added 12 on a perfect night (4-for-4) both from the floor and from distance.
All 10 players who saw action scored, with Tirus Smith adding nine points and Trey Touchet eight.
“The ball moved tonight, better probably than it has all season,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “I’m really proud of our new guys, our freshmen, to really score like that and have  assists because the ball moved. We talked to our guys a lot about that, because we’re next-to-last or last in our league in assists. So what does that mean? It’s too much one-on-one, the ball is not moving and we’re not getting the ball deep in the lane and at the rim. That changed a little bit tonight. We did it without Matt having a huge night, Omega having a huge night and Paul, our veteran guys. We did it with a lot of the new guys. And so I’m really pleased to see Trey Wade and Isiah [Osborne] play so well.”
The Miners shot 39.3 percent in the first half but Johnson didn’t make any major adjustments, figuring his team was due to start making them.
“We’re getting good shots at halftime,” he said. “We don’t need to change and do anything crazy offensively. I felt like the shots would drop. [Omega] just didn’t have it going and so we made a move with Isiah and that helped. He felt good. The big message at halftime was rebound the glass. You’ve got to go crush it. They were killing us and coming out of nowhere, and I thought really just mauling our guys and they came from behind slapping, and that’s what they do and that’s ok. They play hard. And I give them credit.
UTEP trailed 39-34 when Rice’s Connor Cashaw hit a three pointer with 17:32 remaining. After that, the Miners went on a 22-6 run over the next nine minutes to charge ahead 56-45. Osborne scored nine points during the run.
Rice cut the deficit to eight (56-48) on a layup by Miles Lester with 7:52 to play. UTEP put it away with a 20-8 spurt, pushing the lead to 20.
UTEP shot 55.4 percent, its best figure since the season opener versus Louisiana College (57.8 percent). The Miners made 12-of-19 threes (63.2 percent) to improve to 5-1 this season when they score 70 points or more.
“I think there’s a reason we scored more points, because the ball moved,” Johnson said. “When you shoot with your feet set and you’re expecting the ball to move to you, you make more shots versus just going one-on-one and trying to force a shot.”
Now it’s off to the first C-USA road trip of the season. The Miners will play at Southern Miss on Thursday (6 p.m. MT) and LA Tech Saturday (5 p.m. MT). The Southern Miss game will be televised on beIN Sports.