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UTEP defeats UC Riverside after break for finals

Gaby Velasquez
The Miners celebrate their win against the UC Riverside Highlanders at the Don Haskins Center on Saturday, Dec. 16.

The UTEP men’s basketball team defeated the UC Riverside Highlanders, 68-56, at the Don Haskins Center on Sunday, Dec. 16, after a 12 day break for finals.

UTEP improved to 4-5 on the season behind a big performance by freshman forward Efe Odigie, while UC Riverside fell to 3-8.

“I think a lot of the experience that he’s gotten to have early in the year has led him the opportunity to grow as a player on the floor and now hey you know what my team needs me out there I can’t pick up silly fouls,” said first-year head coach Rodney Terry about Odigie’s performance.

Odigie notched his fourth career double-double on the season with a team-high 24 points and 11 rebounds. The 24 points were a new career high for the freshman big man.

The other Miner to score in double-digits was fellow freshman guard Jordan Lathon who finished the game with 14 points. This was Lathon’s third consecutive double-digit performance.

UTEP needed to find scoring with the team’s leading scorer sophomore guard Evan Gilyard  missed today’s game with an injury. Coach Terry did not disclose how close Gilyard is to returning but did offer some optimism that Gilyard will play in the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational against Norfolk State on Friday, Dec. 21.

Junior transfer guard Ountae Campbell started in Gilyard’s place. Campbell finished the game with seven points and scored one of the Miners four three-pointers, UTEP shot 4-17 from behind the arc.

“Basketball is a team sport and that’s the beauty of it and when you have a guy down next man up, Terry said.  “It’s not an individual sport where you’re out you know you can’t play you know if you’re injured teams next guy gets an opportunity to play and do his job and hopefully do it at a very high level for us, obviously you love to have all your guy’s but when you don’t and someone’s down next guy up.”

“We missed his presence but that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to come out and compete, Odigie said. “It doesn’t mean anything  we need everybody on the team but if somebody’s missing out like it’s just we got to make up for that like you said leading scorer on the team we got makeup for those extra points.”

Sophomore guard Kobe Magee led the Miners with a team-high six assists. The Miners as a team finished the game with 15 assists on 20 made field goals.

“Definitely on defense, we had to get stops since we were missing shots you can’t rely on our offense we had to rely on our defense that’s when we started getting separation”, said freshman guard Nigel Hawkins.

UTEP was able to get after the Highlanders defensively, forcing 20 turnovers compared to UTEP’s 13. UTEP held UC Riverside’s junior guard Dikymbe Martin to two points in the first half, but in the second half, Martin exploded for 17 points alone.

What kept things close until the end was the three ball for the Highlanders. UC Riverside shot 48 percent from behind the arc, nailing 10-of-21 attempts. Whereas, UTEP struggled from behind the arc only hitting one, till the two-minute mark in the second half, when senior forward Paul Thomas nailed the second three-pointer for the Miners, Magee and Campbell would make the other two as UTEP struggled from behind the arc.

UTEP clamped down defensively in the second half and went on an 15-6 run to close out the game after the Highlanders cut the Miners lead to three after a pair of free throws.

“I feel like at some point they wanted it and that’s when they went on their little run we had to respond,” Odigie said. “I feel like we responded well and I feel like that’s how we have to go about it for the rest of the year just responding to adversity and responding to people making runs.”

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Daniel Mendez, Staff reporter
Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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UTEP defeats UC Riverside after break for finals