EL PASO, Texas- Souley Boum poured in 23 points (17 in second half) to join the 1,000-career point club at the school, Keonte Kennedy notched his second straight game with 20+ points and Jorell Saterfield (13 points) provided a spark off the bench to help the UTEP men’s basketball (6-4) team fend off feisty McNeese, 82-72, at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening. Boum became the first Miner since Omega Harris (2016-17) to join the 1,000-career point club at UTEP.
The Miners won for the first time on the year when trailing at the half, and in fact erased what was once a 12-point first-half deficit to claim their fifth double-digit victory out of six wins. UTEP emerged triumphant in spite of two starters (Jamal Bieniemy-14.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1,8 steals per game and Tydus Verhoeven- 4.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg. 1.0 bpg) missing the game. Reserve Cam Clardy also was unavailable. It marked the second straight game the Miners were without multiple starters.
It was a one-point UTEP edge (68-67) before the Miners turned up the heat late to close the contest out on a 14-5 surge. Boum, fittingly, had nine points in the game-closing surge. Eleven of the 12 Miners who suited up saw action, with each providing a spark in their own way. Included in that was Ze’rik Onyema, who was +10 on the night and had a dunk and a rebound in five minutes of action.
UTEP shook off a slow shooting start to finish at 47.4 percent from the floor with 15 assists to 12 turnovers. The Miners harassed McNeese into making 17 giveaways that were fueled into 28 crucial points for the Orange and Blue.
Boum dished out a team-best five assists followed by Kennedy with four. Kevin Kalu came alive with a career-high eight points while Christian Agnew added nine.
“We were going to keep fighting and as frustrating as it was at times we found a way to win a basketball game,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “Big credit of that to Z (Ze’rik Onyema) who played four minutes and 51 seconds but he came in with juice and completely changed the game. I thought he was the MVP of the game. He got the opportunity and made the most of it.
“We were just out of sorts all night at both ends,” Golding said. “Credit to McNeese. But these guys keep showing up each day. We’ve found a way to win two games with two starters out. We’ve got to keep plugging along and keep working.”
McNeese opened the contest on a 7-2 push to before a little surge by the Miners cut the deficit to one (9-8) thanks to a Kennedy and-one lay-up in transition off a steal four minutes into the frame. The Cowboys handled the surge and methodically moved out by as many as 12 (36-24) with 4:00 remaining in the half.
UTEP regrouped and roared into the locker room on a 10-2 run to cut the margin down to four (38-34) at the break. The Miners continued the surge in the early stages of the second stanza, eventually pulling even for the first time of the tilt at 40-40. Once again, the Cowboys had an answer. This one came in the form of a 11-2 sequence to go out by nine (51-42). The Miners, as they’ve done all year, refused to quit.
The Orange and Blue retaliated with a game-altering 14-2 sequence in just over four minutes. The result was a three-point Miner lead, and despite things being close down the stretch, and UTEP never relinquished it.
The contest featured just one lead change, which came during that surge, and a trio of ties. The Miners led for 11 minutes of action, but they were the final 11 in the contest.
UTEP continues its three-game homestand when it participates in the 60th-anniversary edition of the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, with two contests in as many days. The Miners open the oldest collegiate holiday basketball tournament in the nation when they face NC Central at 7 p.m. MT on Tuesday (Dec. 21).