Miners come close to upset at Kansas 67-62

Senior+forward+Bryson+Williams+shoots+a+fade-away+jumper+over+Kansas%27s+David+McCormack+March+4.

Courtesy of Kansas Athletics/ Brett Beerends

Senior forward Bryson Williams shoots a fade-away jumper over Kansas’s David McCormack March 4.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

The UTEP Miners stormed out to a double-digit lead over perennial power the Kansas Jayhawks on the road before coming up short in a heartbreaking 67-62 loss.

From the start of the game, the Miners gave Kansas all it could handle as a steal by junior Jamal Bienemy led to the game’s first score from junior Souley Boum. Senior Bryson Williams then took control of the game early, scoring 9 straight points, including a spot-up 3-pointer, as the Miners jumped out to an 11-2 lead with seven minutes of the first half elapsed.

A 3-pointer from junior Keonte Kennedy put the Miners up by double digits with nine minutes left in the first half. UTEP continued to play strong defense as it continued to grow its lead. At the 3:21 mark, sophomore Kristian Sjolund hit a corner 3-pointer to give the Miners a 12 point lead. Boum scored the next 6 Miner points as the Miners grew its lead and finished the half up 34-20.

Defensively the Miners shut down the Jayhawk offense holding Kansas to 27% shooting from the field and only two of nine from the arc. Williams led all players at halftime with 13 points. Kansas’s 20 points at the half was its lowest nonconference score in 20 years.

Williams picked up right where left off in the first half scoring the first 7 Miners points of the half. At the 15:44 of the second half, Kennedy hit a 3-pointer to put UTEP up 44-29.  A few minutes later, another 3-pointer, this time from junior Jamal Bienemy, kept the Miners up by 15 points.

A layup from junior Efe Odigie still had the Miners up by 14 points with 12:25 left in the game. At this point, the Miners started turning the ball over and Kansas stepped up their defense as the Jayhawks clawed its way back into the game.

Over the next four minutes, the Miners were shut down as the Jayhawks cut the UTEP lead to six points until Bienemy stepped up with a 3-pointer to stretch the lead back to 9 points with 8:35 left in the game.

Williams followed that up by breaking an eight-minute scoring drought to keep the Miners in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, the Miners turned the ball over three straight times as Kansas junior David McCormack of Kansas started heating up with his aggressive play. Mccormack scored 8 consecutive points as Kansas climbed back to trail by only 1 point with 5:19 remaining.

The UTEP Miners never trailed once in the first 56 minutes of the game. At 3:39, the Wildcats’ Ochai Agbaji hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 59 apiece. UTEP’s Boum responded by getting to the charity stripe but was only able to convert one of his shots. McCormick once again stepped up with a score and drew a foul to give Kansas its first lead of the game with 2;39 left in the game.

Boum tried to regain the lead for UTEP with a transition 3-pointer that missed but a great effort on the boards by Willams gave the Miners another shot but he missed a short shot from the paint. Verhoeven then responded with another stellar defensive play as he stole the ball and hit Boum on an outlet that he converted into a couple of free throws to tie it back up at 62 with 1:30 remaining in the game.

Verhoeven then got his fifth block of the game on a layup from the Jayhawks’ Marcus Garret. Boum then grabbed the rebound as the Miners tried to take the lead back but missed on a 3-pointer that might have sealed the game. Another Miner turnover   Kansas played disciplined ball as Garret hit another clutch shot in the paint to take the lead back for the Jayhawks.

Then playing somewhat out of control, Boum had his most costly of his four turnovers which gave the Jayhawks possession of the game. Kansas was able to get back to the line on a Kennedy foul and extended its lead to and drew a foul from Kennedy as the Jayhawks took a 66-62 lead with 15 seconds remaining on the clock. The Miners did not get a shot off for the next nine seconds and a Kennedy miss sealed the game for the Jayhawks 67-62.

“We came out with good energy and good activity, we were really guarding, we did a great job blocking out, we did a great job taking care of the basketball in the first half,” UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “We knew in the second half they would rev up their defense. We had to be strong with the ball and make physical plays in the post.”

After playing disciplined ball in the first half with only four turnovers, the Miners had 10 turnovers in the second half alone. Ill-advised shots hurt the Miners shooting from the field as the team finished the second half, 8 of 25 from the field and 4 of 14 from the arc.

Kansas shot a blistering 57% from the field in the second half while the Miners struggled, shooting 27%. The Jayhawks scored 30 points in the paint while scoring 18 points off of Miner turnovers. Agbaji finished with 19 points and McCormick, who was vital down the stretch, had 18.

The Miners only had two players score in double disfigures for the game, with Williams leading all players with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Boum had 16 points but was abysmal from the arc, hitting 1 of 8 shots. Verhoeven had a career-high with five blocks in the game but offered little as usual in the offense.

Kansas made it to the foul line 24 times while the Miners only had 13 foul shots on the night, resulting in a 6 point spread for the Jayhawks. Overall, Terry was not happy with the officiating down the stretch.

“That was a game-changer,” Terry said. “I don’t make a lot of complaints about the officiating, but we should have been at the foul line with 12 minutes left in the game. It’s hard to drive the ball, it’s hard to get things done when you’ve got two hands on you for 40 minutes and we can’t get a call. That’s ridiculous.”

“If they can climb up on you and get their hands on you, it’s hard to execute.”

UTEP has not beaten a ranked team since a 77-65 overtime win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2010. Since that game, the Miners are 0-9 against ranked teams.

The Miners now take this experience to build on to Denton, Texas and the Conference USA tournament with seeding and opponent pending starting March 10.