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Men’s basketball looks to continue streak

Five of the final seven regular season games will be at home for coach Tim Floyd and the UTEP men’s basketball team.

After coming back from Florida with two wins this past weekend against Florida Atlantic and Florida International, the Miners are preparing for their longest conference home stand of the season.

UTEP will open the three-game home stretch when they host Charlotte on Thursday, Feb. 12, and Old Dominion on Saturday, Feb. 14.

FAU beat UTEP on a last second shot, last season at the Don Haskins. Thursday night, UTEP repaid the favor, beating the Owls by a final of 63-57 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Senior center Cedric Lang scored a season-high 16 points and sophomore forward Vince Hunter led all scorers with 22 as the Miners dominated FAU down in the paint to end their road-losing streak at two.

“We got good efforts from our bigs,” Floyd said. “Vince was aggressive, Cedrick was really aggressive.”

The two Miner bigs were especially dominant in the second half when UTEP outscored FAU 24-6 in the paint. With the score tied at the break, Hunter made sure the Miners did not lose their third-straight road game by scoring 17 points in the final 20 minutes of play.

With a little over two minutes to play and the score tied at 54, UTEP finished the game on a 9-2 run, all Miner points coming from the free-throw line.

After their third-straight win, Tim Floyd and his squad headed 45 minutes south to Miami to play Florida International. The Miners were in control throughout the first half and went to the break with a nine-point lead over the home team.

The comfortable lead fluctuated in the second half, from as many as 11 points to just two, and then disappeared with less than a minute and a half to be played.

The Panthers got their first lead of the game with 1:23 remaining and with UTEP’s winning streak in danger.

Freshman guard Omega Harris went into the paint, grabbed an offensive rebound and put the Miners back on top, where they would stay for good. UTEP once again closed the game out on the free-throw line, scoring the final three points.

“We feel very fortunate,” Floyd said. “We were able to get to the line and that was really the difference in the game.”

After an unexpected Western Kentucky loss at home against Rice, there is a three-way tie at the top of the Conference USA standings. UAB and Louisiana Tech caught up with the Hilltoppers with a conference record of 8-2. UTEP trails all three of them by just one game.

“We would love it if we can (get a top four seed in the conference tournament),” Floyd said. “We’ve got three in a row at home, that gives us a chance.”

The first of those three games will be on Thursday night, Feb. 12, when the Miners host Charlotte on the floor of the Don Haskins. Charlotte is coming off a close loss at Old Dominion, in which they gave the 18-4 Monarchs all they could handle. With a 3-6 conference record, the 49ers are tied for ninth place with North Texas and Rice.

In Charlotte, the Miners will face one of the best statistical offenses in Conference USA, but also one of the worst defenses.

In fact, the 49ers are the team that allows, on average, the most points per game to an opponent. On average 72 ppg is what an offense has scored this year when playing Charlotte. On the flip side, they are the second-most explosive offense, averaging exactly 73 ppg.

UTEP is among the top five in scoring offense, scoring just under 70 ppg and the top three in scoring defense, allowing just 63.3.

Three 49ers are averaging double digits—freshmen guard Torin Dorn averages 12.3 ppg, sophomore guard Braxton Ogbueze averages 10.5 ppg and senior guard Pierria Henry an even 10.

Finally, the matchup will offer some pretty good rebounders. For the Miners, Hunter leads the league averaging 9.7 rebounds per contest. Lang is second on the team with an average of 6.5. Charlotte has two players among the top 10 Conference USA rebounders in junior forward Willie Clayton and junior center Mike Thorne Jr. Both players average 6.7 rebounds per game.

Miners and 49ers met last season on the floor of the Don Haskins with the favorable result going to UTEP by a final score of 73-68.

As they have done pretty much all year, the team that comes to El Paso on Saturday, Feb. 14, does so after a stop in San Antonio. For the first time ever, the Old Dominion Monarchs will be on the floor of the Don Haskins Center. These teams met last year in Norfolk, Va., where the Miners prevailed 63-49.

This year the matchup promises to be a lot closer. Already established is the fact that UTEP is one of the best defensive teams in the league. Statistically there are just two better than the Miners and one of them is Old Dominion.

Once ranked nationally, the Monarchs boast the best scoring defense in Conference USA, allowing opponents to score an average of 57.3 ppg. The Monarchs have allowed just two teams to reach 80 points this year and one other has reached 70.

Old Dominion is on a three-game winning streak, but lost both of their last games they played on the road. They were blown out at UAB and lost in overtime against Middle Tennessee.

The Monarchs are led by guard Trey Freeman. The 6-foot-2 junior is averaging just over 16 ppg and could pose a considerable challenge for the Miner front court. No Monarch averages over 5.7 rebounds per game, but the team leads the league with a +5.3 rebounding margin.

With the two wins on the road, UTEP has assured itself a positive balance on the road this year in conference. Winning on the road could prove to be the difference the Miners need to pull ahead in such a tight league race—as long as they take care of business at home.

“We’ve got five road wins now, which is important,” Floyd said. “We’ve got to go back and play some very good teams at home and try to play them well.”

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected].

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Men’s basketball looks to continue streak