Blazers stifle Miners with smothering defense

UTEP+sophomore+guard+Keonte+Kennedy++fights+for+a+loose+ball+against+the+Rice+Owls.+Jan+8.

Courtesy of UTEP

UTEP sophomore guard Keonte Kennedy fights for a loose ball against the Rice Owls. Jan 8.

Michael Cuviello, Sports editor

The UTEP Miners (8-9, 4-7) men’s basketball team trailed the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers  (15-2, 8-1) from start to finish Saturday night in a poor offensive showing, culminating in a 63-51 defeat on the road.

From the very first few minutes of the Miner’s matchup against the division-leading  Blazers, one could tell that UTEP would be in for a long night. Junior guard Souley Boum had two costly turnovers within the first two minutes of the game and the Miners missed its first four shots as the team was unable to score for the first four minutes of the game. During that time, the Blazers jumped out to a 6-0 lead showing why the team has the top-ranked defense in the conference.

Boum would go on to score the first six points of the night for the Miners. Senior forward Bryson Williams then would go on to score the next 7 points for the Miners. Together these players would combine for all the Miners scores except for 10 points.

By the eight-minute mark, UAB had pulled out to a double-digit lead 24-11. With five minutes remaining in the first half and trailing 28-18, the Miners made its one run of the game. Sophomore transfer Kristian Sjolund hit a 3-pointer cutting the lead to 7 points. After hitting two previous free throws, Boum made an open 3-pointer to close the Blazer lead to 30-28. For the next two and half minutes, the Miners would go scoreless and hold the Blazers to only one more basket in the half. At halftime, the Miners trailed 32-28.

Only three Miner players had scored in the first half. Boum had 14 points, Williams 9 points and Sjolund  5 points. The Blazers had a slight rebound advantage of 17-15 and both teams had played strong defense.

Junior Trey Jamison, the Blazers seven-foot center, had 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks in a tremendous all-around first half. Senior guard Quan Jackson was a sparkplug off the bench leading the Blazers in scoring in the first half

UTEP opened up the second half much the same way the last half ended, going scoreless for two and half minutes, giving the Blazers a 38-30 lead. Up until the five-minute mark, the Miners were able to stay within striking distance of the Blazers. With 4:21 left in the game, the Blazers moved to a 54-43 lead. The Miners would get no closer than 9 points the rest of the way as UAB scored all nine of its remaining points at the foul line en route to a comfortable 63-51 victory with a hot hand from Michael Ertel scoring 12 points in the second half.

“I think they’re a really good defensive team, but I think we did a pretty good job defensively. We were right where we needed to be at the half in terms of getting stops,” third-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said, “We didn’t play completely great offensively in the first half, but still had it at a two-possession ballgame at the half. We had some really good looks, but UAB made a couple more plays. I think some of the toughness plays down the stretch and UAB got a couple of offensive rebounds that kept them alive a little bit for second-chance opportunities.”

Of the Miners 51 points, 41 were scored by Boum and Williams. Boum finished the night 7-20 from the field, 2-7 from the 3-point line and 22 total points. Boum had season-high seven turnovers for the game. Williams had an efficient 9 of 13 game from the field along with eight rebounds but was only able to get to the free-throw line once. No other Miner scored more than five points.

Starters Keonte Kennedy, Jamal Bieniemy and Tydus Verhoeven were a combined 2-15 from the field, combining for 5 points. Boum, Williams and Bieniemy played the entire game without a substation. Kennedy played 31 minutes and fouled out with just over two minutes left in the game.

Jackson ended up with 18 points for the game, leading the Blazers. Finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, Jamison had a great all-around effort. The Blazers took command on the boards in the second half with an eight-rebound advantage. For the game, the Blazers controlled the boards 43-32 and the UAB bench outscored the Miners 24-5.

The Miners continued its losing streak of nine games where the team shoots less than 42%. When the Miners shoot 42% or more, the team is 8-0. Over the past four games, the Miners have shot a dismal 23% from the 3-point line.

UTEP plays the second of back-to-back games with UAB 3 p.m. Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. The game will be televised on ESPN+.

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]