EL PASO, Texas – The UTEP men’s basketball team held UCR to nearly 18 points below its scoring average but couldn’t muster enough offense in a 52-40 setback at the Don Haskins Center Monday evening.
The Miners were without the services of Conference USA leading scorer Souley Boum (20.7 ppg) and fellow veteran guard Christian Agnew (4.3 ppg). Keonte Kennedy and Jamal Bieniemy . Both were ruled out before the game due to COVID-19 protocols.
The setback halted a 14-game nonconference home winning streak for the Orange and Blue
“First of all I’m proud of our guys defensively,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “I don’t think effort was the problem tonight. We guarded a really good basketball team. When you hold a team to 52 points, especially at home, you’ve got to find a way to win the game. We just have to figure out a way to get the ball in the basket.”
Bieniemy (11 points) was the lone Miner in double figures while Tydus Verhoeven (six points, six rebounds) and Kennedy (six points, three boards) also pitched in.
The Miners shot 26.3 percent from the floor, hindered by going 1-24 from 3-point range. The visitors weren’t much better at 30.0 percent from distance, but they did finish at 43.2 percent overall (19-44). Rebounding was a slight edge to UCR (39-35).
UCR snuck out to the early 5-2 edge three minutes into the contest. UTEP stopped the push with consecutive free throws from Kevin Kalu, which incidentally proved to be the start of an 11-0 run over the next five minutes.
The Miners got stops on 10 straight possessions while doing enough on offense in the sequence to peel off 11 straight points. Six different players tallied points for the Orange and Blue during the run. UCR did well to stave off the run and eventually regained the lead by four (23-19) heading into the break.
The Highlanders continued the push into the second stanza, extending the differential to seven (30-27) with 17:06 to play. UTEP got back it back to three but UCR nudged it out to eight (37-29) with 9:44 to play in the contest.
The Miners remained undeterred, eventually trimming the differential all the way down to one (37-36) with blank to play after a triple from Bieniemy ignited the crowd. The Highlanders handled the surge with poise on the way to leading by as many as 10 (46-36) with 3:16 to play in the game.
UTEP got some stops in the waning minutes but not enough gusto offensively as the Highlanders held on.
“I believe in our guys and our team,” Golding said. “We’ve got to get some work on some shots. When you’re open, you’ve got to have confidence that it will go in. Hopefully that will happen Wednesday night (vs. FAMU).”
The Miners wrap up the Cerebro Sports Golden Turkey Classic against Florida A&M at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 24) with their second game in three days.