UTEP Men’s Basketball  Goes Down Fighting To UAB, 69-66

EL PASO, Texas – Souley Boum tallied a game-high 26 points, but a second-half surge from UAB allowed the visitors to sneak past the UTEP men’s basketball team, 69-66, inside the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.

The Miners (16-12, 9-7 C-USA) were up by seven (34-27) at the break, but the Blazers (22-7, 12-4 C-USA) did enough over the final 20 of minutes of play to escape with the win. UTEP didn’t make it easy as it led by one (66-65) with 1:13 to play, but UAB scored the next four points to account for the game’s 11th and final lead change. A potential game-tying three-pointer by Alfred Hollins didn’t go.

The Blazers entered the game leading the league and ranked 13th nationally at 80.1 points per game, but UTEP’s defensive effort wasn’t enough.

“First and foremost give credit to UAB. They have really good players and are really well coached,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “I was proud of our guys’ effort. There were some things that were really good for us tonight. Guys were diving around, flying around. Two keys were rebounding and turnovers. We did a great job taking care of the ball with eight turnovers, but they obviously they kicked us on the glass a bit.

“The game was right there,” Golding said. “That team has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament like a bunch of teams in our leagues in two weeks in Frisco. We had a one-point lead with two minutes to play, we just couldn’t finish it.”

Keonte Kennedy made his first appearance in league play after missing 15 straight contests due to an injury. He contributed in 10 points off the bench in 22 minutes to join Boum as the only other Miner in double figures for scoring. Jamal Bieniemy (nine points, four assists) and Hollins (eight points, six rebounds) also got after it.

UAB was paced by 22 points by Jordan Walker. The Miners forced 17 turnovers and shot 45.5 percent to the Blazers’ 42.1 percent, but they were outrebounded, 42-25.

Bieniemy drained a triple on the opening possession of the game, but UAB answered with five straight points. UTEP responded with 10 in a row to vault out at 13-5 (11:49 1H). The defense fueled the push, with the Miners forcing eight UAB turnovers in the sequence. Offensively it was baskets from four different players, including a dunk by Tydus Verhoeven.

UAB ended the six-and-a-half minute scoreless drought with consecutive treys  to cut the lead to four (15-11), but Kennedy buried a corner trey to halt the 6-0 push and put the Orange and Blue up seven (18-11, 8:59 1H).

It was back-and-forth the rest of the half, with UTEP carrying a seven-point lead (34-27) into the locker room.

UAB opened up the second stanza on a 9-0 run to spring into the lead at 36-34 (17:23 2H). Hollins demonstrated patience in the post to tie the tilt at 36 on UTEP’s ensuing possession. After the Miners peeled off a 5-0 run to lead by three (41-38), UAB struck back with six straight points to go up by three at 44-41 with 13:48 remaining in regulation.

A spin-around jumper in the paint by Hollins stopped the surge and made it a one-point game, only to have a 5-0 run by UAB put the Miners down by six (49-43, 11:12 2H). It was a seven-point differential (54-47, 9:17 2H) before Boum nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to cut the deficit to four (54-40).

After UAB  pushed it back to eight, six straight points for the Miners-including a trey from Boum- cut the deficit to two (58-56, 6:14) and forced a UAB timeout. Kennedy drew a charge on Walker on the first possession out of the timeout, and Boum promptly tied the game at 58 with a pair of free throws. 

UTEP got stops on the next couple of possessions and Bieniemy extended the run to 10-0 with a Euro-step layup on a fast-break basket, putting it up at 60-58 (4:08, 2H). UAB answered with five consecutive points but Boum was pure on a triple to tie the game at 63 (2:47, 2H). The Blazers went back ahead at 65-64, but Kennedy’s runner in the lane put the Miners up by a point (66-65).

UAB tallied the next four points in the game to lead by three (69-66, 00:14, 2H), and a 3-pointer to tie the tilt by Hollins didn’t go.

UTEP continues its three-game homestand to close out the regular season when it plays host to Rice at 7 p.m. MT on Thursday (March 3). Jon Teicher (41st year) and Steve Yellen (19th year) will be on the call on the free UTEP App. It will also be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network.