UTEP men’s basketball fall to Mean Green

Sophomore+guard+Nigel+Hawkins+evades+around+the+defender+while+playing+against+NMSU+at+the+Don+Haskins+Center+on+Dec.3

Daniel Rey Perez

Sophomore guard Nigel Hawkins evades around the defender while playing against NMSU at the Don Haskins Center on Dec.3

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

The UTEP Miners men’s basketball team fell behind early to the University of North Texas Mean Green Saturday and never recovered. Trailing by 11 at halftime, the Miners went on to lose to North Texas 67-57.  

Coming off its first road win of the Rodney Terry era, the Miners were facing a North Texas team that had won seven straight games, including four by double digits. The Mean Green has been a very balanced scoring team and has averaged a 9-point victory margin over its opponents. 

Holding North Texas’s leading scoring Umoja Gibson in check with only six points compared to his usual 14 points per game was one positive for the Miners in the matchup. Unfortunately, Zachary Simmons picked up a great amount of the slack, leading the team with 16 points on 5-10 shooting and making all six of his free throws. 

Leading the way for the Miners were sophomore Souley Boum with 21 points and Bryson Williams with 18 points. Scoring from the rest of the team though, was another issue. No other player on the roster scored more than 5 points for the Miners. Once again, the Miners seemed way too dependent on the three-point shot which has not been a strong point for the team.  

The Miners overall shot 5-19 from the arc, which is below the UTEP average of 28 percent for the season. Williams, who has been the most effective three-point shooter on the team, was only 1-5 from that range. For the season, Williams is shooting over 40% from the three-point line. 

Lack of turnover creation was an issue for the Miner defense with the Mean Green only committing six turnovers compared to the Miners 13. For the game, the Miners only had one steal from sophomore Tyrus Verhoeven at the 16:44 mark of the second half. 

A three-pointer at the 17:40 mark of the first half by senior Darryl Edwards was the last time the Miners would lead the game at 5-2. At the 10minute mark, the Mean Green would take the lead off a pair of free throws by Simmons. North Texas would never trail for the rest of the game and opened up a 38-27 halftime lead. 

Things did not get much better for UTEP early in the second half as the Miners trailed by 16 points with 12 minutes remaining in the game. A three-pointer by Boum with 10 minutes remaining capped an 8-point run, which trimmed the deficit to eight points. 

Williams layup with a little over three minutes remaining brought the Miners to within 5 points. With about two minutes left on the clock, the Mean Green’s James Reese hit a three-pointer to extend the North Texas lead to eight. That shot would be the last field goal of the game, and the Mean Green would win the free-throw battle the rest of the way by an 8-2 margin to cap off the victory. 

Foul trouble plagued the Miners in the second half with Verhoeven and sophomore Jordan Lathon struggling with four fouls apiece. Lathon played his most minutes in four games after averaging nine minutes a game the previous three. 

Since returning from the transfer portal, Lathon has struggled with his shooting coming off the bench. As a starter before temporarily leaving the team, Lathon shot 34% from the field since returning and coming off the bench; he has not made a field goal in 14 attempts. 

“We didn’t guard as well as we did at Rice,” Terry said. “Regardless of the calls and guys sitting in the first half due to foul trouble, the guys coming into the game have to get down and guard. We had to stay in the same coverage that we’re trying to work. We just didn’t guard the way we needed to guard tonight.” 

Sophomore Efe Odigie was available but did not play after missing the team’s travel to Houston Wednesday. 

Falling to 12-9 and 3-5 in conference play, the Miners currently sit in ninth place in Conference USA. The good news is that the next opponent for UTEP is struggling mightily this season. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders are coming off its first conference win and are 5-16 overall. Middle Tennessee has a five-game win streak over the Miners. 

The Miners will next take on the Blue Raiders 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Don Haskins Center.

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]