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Miners come home after long road stretch

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The UTEP men’s basketball team has allowed the opposing team to reach 70 points in only six of the 17 games they have played before this weekend.

Undefeated on the road in conference play, the Miners went to Western Kentucky and Marshall, and allowed more than 70 points and recorded their first back-to-back losses in Conference USA play since late February 2014. Now they return home to host UAB and Middle Tennessee on Thursday, Jan. 29 and Saturday, Jan. 31, respectively.

In Western Kentucky, UTEP faced the Hilltoppers with the opportunity to grab a share of the lead in the Conference USA standings. The Miners had plenty of opportunities to score an important victory on the road, outplaying the home team for long stretches, but ultimately they failed to close the deal in the second half and in overtime and lost 71-66.

“They were better than we were in the overtime,” said head coach Tim Floyd. “We were not efficient and you give them credit.”

Floyd’s squad played a fantastic first half, limiting a team that has averaged almost 74 points per game to just 28 on 28.6 percentshooting. They were also able to completely shut down the league’s leading scorer in T.J. Price, who was averaging over 17 points per game and went scoreless throughout the first 20 minutes of play.

In the second half, the Miners’ good defense continued, but offensively they struggled mightily from the field and the free-throw line. UTEP missed every one of the 17 attempts from beyond the arc and were just 50 percent from the line, including 6-14 in the second half.

“We had great looks. We got to the line, did things we wanted to do,” Floyd said. “We got into the double bonus early enough to where we should’ve been in command of the game and been able to go play, but couldn’t get it done.”

Miner forward Vince Hunter overcame a sprained knee and managed to record his 11th double-double of the season with a 13-point and 13-rebound performance.

After the disappointing loss in Kentucky, a win at winless Marshall seemed like the perfect bounce back, until it wasn’t. The Herd’s Justin Edmonds scored a career-high 20 points, which included five 3-pointers, and handed UTEP its third conference loss by a score of 78-71.

UTEP freshman guard Omega Harris led the Miners in scoring with 18 and was one of the few bright spots of the day. Harris was 6-9 from the field, including 2-3 from beyond the arc, 4-4 from the foul line and recorded three assists.

“I thought we got a really good performance from Omega Harris,” Floyd said. “He was terrific.”

After three straight road games, the Miners are back within the walls of the Don Haskins Center looking to regroup and bounce back in front of their fans.

First up are the Blazers of UAB, who come in to town with a 10-10 record, but just one loss in conference play. After losing to Louisiana Tech on Jan. 15, the Blazers are on a three-game winning streak. Their most recent victory came at the expense of Old Dominion, who at one point was ranked among the top-25 teams in the nation. It was the second game in a row in which UAB scored more than 80 points.

Statistically, the Blazers do not look very impressive, appearing in the middle of the pack or lower in almost every category except for free-throw percentage, in which they lead the league. Still, it is a team that has plenty of experience boasting a very impressive out-of-conference schedule, having played teams like No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 16 Florida, then No. 22 UCLA, No. 13 North Carolina and LSU. Although they were all losses, it must have left some positive impact judging by their 6-1 Conference USA record, which is good enough to be tied for second place.

Offensively, the Blazers are led by junior guard Robert Brown. Brown is averaging 13.5 points per contest. Freshman forward Lee William leads the team in rebounding, averaging just under Five per game.

UAB leads the series against the Miners, having won eight of the 15 games between the two.

After UAB, the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee come to town after they play UTSA on Thursday. Middle Tennessee enters the weekend in fourth place, just a game behind Louisiana Tech and UAB, who are tied at second. With an overall record of 12-8, the Blue Raiders struggle on the road—they are 3-6 when playing away from home.

Head coach Kermit Davis and his team are among the worst teams in the league offensively, averaging 61.8 points per game, but among the best when it comes to defense. Middle Tennessee ranks second in the league in scoring defense, allowing opposing teams to score an average of just more than 60 points per game.

This will be just the second time the Miners and Blue Raiders square off. The game took place a year ago at the Don Haskins Center and UTEP prevailed by a score of 81-52.

After a couple of disappointing losses on the road, where the Miners had been very good during the last couple of years, the upcoming home games might be crucial toward the team’s aspirations come March. Improving at the foul line will be a focus during the week for the coaching staff.

“We have just plummeted at the free-throw line here of late.  That’s no different really than a turnover, it’s a lost possession,” Floyd said. “We’ll have to spend some time there and see if we can’t improve a little bit.”

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected].

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Miners come home after long road stretch