MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Souley Boum registered a game-high 24 points, but the UTEP men’s basketball team was upended at Conference USA East Division leader Middle Tennessee, 77-59, Monday evening.
The setback halts the Miners’ (16-11, 9-6 C-USA) two-game winning streak-both on the road- while also extending the Blue Raiders’ (20-7, 11-3 C-USA) home winning streak to 15 that dates to last year.
It marked the eighth 20+ point scoring outburst in the past 11 games for Boum, who entered the contest as Conference USA’s leading scorer. Emmanuel White (career-high eight points), Tydus Verhoeven (eight points, three assists), Jamal Bieniemy (seven points, three assists) and Jamari Sibley (seven points, five rebounds) buoyed the efforts of Boum.
The Miners were hindered by an off shooting night (36.5. percent) while the Blue Raiders connected on 49.1 percent (26-53), including 11-23 from beyond-the-arc. Even with the loss, UTEP finished its three game road trip in five days at 2-1, including its first win at LA Tech since 2004 and sweeping the Southern Miss/LA Tech trip for the first time in six tries.
“We got off to a good start but their bench came in and changed the game,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “Our guys fought to the end, gave ourselves a chance. Credit Middle Tennessee, they were terrific tonight. There’s a reason they haven’t lost here, good energy, good crowd. Our guys were giving us all that they had. We got some good looks, they just didn’t go in.”
UTEP jumped out to the early 8-5 lead (16:48 1H) behind six points from Boum, including a floater in the lane. The advantage moved to six (13-7, 14:37 1H) with two technical free throws from Boum and Verhoeven splitting a pair at the line after a shooting foul. The home side countered with a 7-0 run to go up by one at 14-13 (13:04, 1H), but Boum halted it with a 3-pointer.
The Blue Raiders struck back with 12 consecutive points to put the Miners down 10 (26-16, 9:04 1H). Sibley ended the sequence with a baby jump hook to bring the deficit down to single digits (26-18, 8:16 2H). It was a nine-point differential (31-22, 4:09 1H) following a triple by Bieniemy, but MT nailed 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to secure a 15-point cushion (37-22, 3:21 1H). UTEP continued to work as the half wore on, but it found itself down by 13 (43-30) heading into halftime.
The Miners began the second half on a 7-2 run with consecutive baskets by Verhoeven and the old-fashioned 3-point play from Sibley to cut the deficit to eight (45-37, 17:46 2H). It remained an eight-point differential (49-41, 13:48 2H) only to have the Blue Raiders go on a 9-2 push to go out by 15 (58-43, 11:29 2H).
Verhoeven halted with surge with a post move down low but the damage had been done. The Miners continued to play hard down the stretch, but they couldn’t get back into the game.
UTEP returns to El Paso to play host to UAB at 7 p.m. MT Saturday in the first of three straight home games to wrap up the regular season. Jon Teicher (41st year) and Steve Yellen (19th year) will be on the on the call on the free UTEP App.