CHARLOTTE, NC. – Jamal Bieniemy (game-high 21 points) and Souley Boum (14 points) both hit double figures in scoring, and UTEP (8-8, 1-3 C-USA) defended with a vigor in a 66-53 setback at Charlotte (8-5, 1-0 C-USA) Thursday evening.
UTEP limited the 49ers to 40.0 percent from the floor and forced 17 turnovers, but the home side did enough to come away with the win.
Keonte Kennedy (13.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 2.1 steals per contest) and Christian Agnew (5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg) both missed the game.
“We have to be gritty, have some fight to us,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “We took some charges tonight, that’s a positive. We were in the game, and in the second half got it back down to seven or eight. We got some good looks.”
Charlotte secured an early 11-4 lead, but the Miners came fighting back. It started with a corner trey by Bieniemy off a feed from Boum. That was followed by an offensive board and putback by Ze’rik Onyema (career-high six points) to cut the margin to two (11-9) with 15:07 remaining in the first half.
The home side struck back in a big way, ripping off 11 consecutive points to put the Orange and Blue down by 13 (22-9). UTEP, as it has done all year, took the hit in stride. The pushback fittingly came from the defensive side of the ball, with the Miners forcing Charlotte into a scoring drought of almost five minutes.
The Orange and Blue’s offense took advantage, whittling the deficit down to one (24-23) as Bieniemy caught fire with 10 of his 17 points in the frame powering the surge. The two sides essentially traded scores the rest of the stanza, with the 49ers managing a three-point cushion (32-29) heading into halftime.
It was a two-point tilt (34-32) 33 seconds into the second half before the 49ers went on another run, sending the Orange and Blue down by 11 (45-34) with 16:06 remaining in regulation.
The Miners’ defense kept the margin at 12 (49-37) with 12:25 to play, before the offense once again got in gear. Saterfield sank a long trey to get the differential to single figures (55-46) with 6:47 left. UTEP trimmed the deficit to seven after Alfred Hollns’s athletic putback but Charlotte wouldn’t let the Orange and Blue complete the comeback.
“We’ve got a tough challenge (at ODU), but what a great opportunity for our guys to turn the page in 48 hours,” Golding said. “We (can) go out there and show some grit and toughness and take the fight to them.”
UTEP will wrap up its time in the Eastern Time Zone to square off against Old Dominion at 5 p.m. MT/7 p.m. ET on Saturday (Jan. 13).