Miners fade late to Owls in foul plagued second half


Courtesy of UTEP

UTEP senior Bryson Williams and junior guard Souley Boum compete against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the C-USA quarterfinals March 10.

The UTEP Miners (12-12, 8-8) lost 76-70 in the first round of the Conference-USA tournament quarter-final versus the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls (13-9,7-5) while only scoring only one field goal in the final six minutes of the game.

Starting off the game strong, the Miners’ junior guard and leading scorer Souley Boum had the first two baskets of the game as UTEP jumped out to a  4-0 lead. Senior big man Bryson Williams then added another score to push UTEP to an early 6point lead.

On back-to-back possessions, FAU’s senior guard Jailyn Ingram hit a 3-pointer to close the Miner lead to 8-6.

At the 15 minute mark of the first half, the Owls had finished off a 9-0 scoring run as FAU took a 12-8 lead. A 3-pointer by 6-11 junior big man Karlis Silins gave the Owls a 5 point lead at the 12:43 mark of the first half.

Another scoring run of six straight points by the Owls had FAU leading 21-11 with 11 minutes left in the first half. With six minutes remaining and trailing by 8 points, the Miners made its move closing the gap to a one-point deficit on two free throws from junior guard Jamal Bienmey with two minutes left in the half. FAU would keep this margin as it closed out the half with a 34-33 lead.

At the half, Boum led all scorers with 12 points. Bienemy was having a solid first half shooting 2 of 5 from the field for 7 points.

UTEP played minimal turnover ball in the opening half with only two turnovers compared to FAU’s 7. The Miners struggled from the 3-point line from the start going only 2 of 10 in the half, while FAU hit 5 of 9 of its shots from the arc.

Both teams came out battling in the second half; sophomore guard Keonte Kennedy at the 16:37 mark, made a tremendous defensive play stealing the ball from FAU’s Michael Forrest, then converting a fast-break layup to give the Miners a 37-36 lead. Kennedy again scored on the next possession to out the Miners up by 3 points.

A 3-pointer from FAU sophomore guard Kenan Blackshear knotted the game back up at 41 with 15 minutes remaining in the game. Seven straight points from Silins gave FAU a 48-43 lead with 13 minutes left in the game.

Five straight points capped off by a 3-pointer tied the game back up at 48 apiece with 11 minutes left in the game. Both teams battled back and forth and with 3:45 remaining in the contest, the score was tied at 64 all.

At this point, the officiating team’s crucial error miscalled an out of bounds on Williams, causing a turnover. FAU was able to capitalize with a jumper from sophomore Bryan Greenlee in the paint to give the Owls a 66-64 lead with three minutes of play remaining. Following a Boum missed free throw, Greenlee would score again after grabbing an offensive rebound to give the Owls a 3-point lead. Back-to-back free throws would pull the Miners to within one with 1:30 remaining.

Blackshear would grab a critical offensive rebound on the next possession, drawing a foul to put the Owls up once gain by 3 points with 1:17 remaining. Another Miner foul would add a Greenlee free throw to put the margin at 4 points with a minute left on the clock.

FAU then continued to force the Miners to foul as the Owls closed out the Miners for a 76-70 win.

“We had some good momentum with about two minutes to go, but I thought it was a critical play when [the referee] called (William) out of bounds when he wasn’t out of bounds,” said  UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry (FAU) got to the line a lot and really was the only way they were scoring for a better part of the second half.”

“If he was out of bounds, he was pushed out of bounds,” Terry said. “That call didn’t cost us the game, but you can’t make that call.”

Over the last six minutes and 30 seconds, the Miners could only muster one field goal out of its final eight shots.

After both teams only shot six free throws in the first half, both teams spent most of the second half at the foul line with a combined 45 free throws. Both teams had only 10 field goals in the second half of the game.

The Owls in this game shot 50% from the 3-point line while also shooting 47% from the field. UTEP shot an abysmal 3 of 18 from the 3-point line, including 1 of 8 in the second half. On the boards, the Owls had a 41-34 advantage. FAU’s bench outscored the Miners 17-6.

For the Owls, Silins led all scorers with 22 points and had six rebounds before fouling out for the first time this season with just over a minute remaining. Silins played a season-high 32 minutes to go along with his season-high point total.

The Miners had three players in double figures led by Boum, who had 23 points on 8-21 shooting but was only one of five from the arc. Williams and Kennedy both had 14 points along with seven rebounds apiece. Bienemy, in the second half, missed all four of his field goals after having a solid first half.

UTEP had only six assists for the game while only having eight turnovers with six in the second half.

For the second year in a row, the Miners were bounced in its first game of the conference tournament and has not won a tourney game since the 2016-17 season. UTEP goes into the offseason with many questions about which players will be returning, most prominently Williams. He is already in his fifth year of basketball at the college level. Last season UTEP lost almost half of its team to the transfer portal and the only senior on the team is Williams.

Coach Terry faces an uncertain offseason for his upcoming fourth season but has already been extended for a sixth year on his contract. Keeping defections to a minimum and adding more talent could make UTEP an improved team next season but if Williams leaves, his presence will be a major hole for the team to fill.

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]