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Men’s basketball to battle UTSA in rematch

    Gaby Velasquez
    The UTEP men’s basketball team will look to snap a five-game losing streak when they face UTSA for a second time this season.

    The UTEP men’s basketball team is in survival mode after dropping their last five games, and they are still hoping for a spot in the Conference USA tournament.

    The Miners (7-17, 2-9 C-USA) are looking to see if they can bounce back and snap their five-game skid as they face UTSA (13-11, 6-5 C-USA) in a rematch on Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Don Haskins Center.

    “We got some games coming up that we really need to take care of. There’s not an easy game left on our schedule,” said interim head coach Phil Johnson, following the loss to Marshall this past Saturday night.

    In the first meeting at the Convocation Center in San Antonio, UTEP had the game in the palm of their hands for about 39 minutes. But at the last minute, they let the win slip away when UTSA’s freshmen guard Jhivvan Jackson stole the ball and converted the layup, leading to a 65-61 Roadrunners’ win.

    The Miners are coming off a solid collective effort on defense against the Thundering Herd. UTEP held the nation’s 12th-best team in terms of scoring (85.3 points per game) to 74 points in the loss. The loss slid UTEP down to the 13th spot in C-USA, just one spot away from not making the conference tournament. Only the top 12 teams in C-USA will qualify for the conference tournament come March.

    Taking care of the basketball has been an issue for the Miners as of late, as they have been recording double-digit turnovers in their last three games. That is one of the main facets of the offense that has problems. Senior guard Omega Harris scored in double digits just once during the five-game losing skid, with 16 points against WKU on Feb. 1.

    Sophomore Isiah Osborne has struggled as well. After having back-to-back 20-plus point games against FIU and UTSA, Osborne hasn’t found his scoring touch since. He has made just four of his last 27 shots during his team’s last four games. Osborne could be a crucial scorer for the Miners if he is able to get right against UTSA. In the first match against UTSA, Osborne recorded season highs in field goals made (seven) and 3-point field goals made (five).

    Graduate transfer Keith Frazier made his first C-USA start of the season against Marshall on Saturday. Frazier is UTEP’s second-leading scorer with 11 points per game, but against the Herd, Frazier didn’t shoot the ball well (3-12), yet was reliable on the defensive effort (six rebounds).

    The scoring for the Miners has come from the bench. Against Marshall, the bench was responsible for 29 points, as freshmen Evan Gilyard was responsible for 20 of those 29 points, tying his career high. During this five-game losing streak, Gilyard has gotten double-digit scoring in three out of the five games. 

    UTEP is already thin in the front court since freshman Tirus Smith is still nursing a knee injury, while sixth-year senior Matt Willms has been delegated to only playing the second half at two to three-minute intervals because of nagging injuries.

    Meanwhile, the Roadrunners are entering Saturday’s rematch riding a three-game winning streak that saw them beat UAB (82-70), Marshall (81-77) and WKU (74-63).  Second-year head coach Steve Henson has been improving his program year after year. In Henson’s first year gracing the hardwood, the team recorded 14 wins with a school record-tying eight C-USA victories.

    UTSA has the second-best scoring offense in Conference USA, averaging 80.9 points per game. Jackson, who has been a nice jolt of energy for UTSA, is C-USA’s fifth-best scorer, averaging 19 points per game. Another freshman guard to watch is Keaton Wallace, who is averaging 11. 9 points per game for the Roadrunners, as well as sophomore guard Giovanni De Nicolao, who leads UTSA is steals (37) and in assists (80).

    The Roadrunners also like to shoot the 3 ball. They are the third-best team from behind the arc, shooting at 35.3 percent clip. They lead the conference in most 3-point field goals made with 10 per game.

    In the first game, one weaknesses UTSA was able to exploit on UTEP was inside the paint. Look for UTSA to do more of that in the rematch, especially with Willms not seeing much playing time and forwards Paul Thomas and Trey Wade having to carry the weight inside. UTSA is the best offensive rebounding team in C-USA (40.8) and fourth best in defensive rebounds per game (38.5).

    In the first meeting against UTSA, UTSA did not introduce freshmen starter Kobe Magee, which raised controversy from UTEP fans on social media. Magee, a San Antonio native, had family and friends in attendance for his first time returning home. UTSA went on to release a statement on how they did not do that intentionally.  The statement had new UTEP athletic director Jim Senter’s attention when he discussed it on The Prospector’s weekly sports podcast on Jan. 22.

    “Let’s fill that damn place (Don Haskins Center) and show UTSA what UTEP is all about. We’re the real blue and orange,” Senter said.

    Tip-off on Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Don Haskins Center.

    Follow Daniel Mendez on Twitter @dmendez24

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    About the Contributors
    Daniel Mendez, Staff reporter
    Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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    Men’s basketball to battle UTSA in rematch