EL PASO, Texas – Keonte Kennedy came off the bench to score 16 points while Jamal Bieniemy registered a double-double (12 points, career-high 10 assists) to help lead the UTEP men’s basketball team to a 70-67 victory against Rice in front of 4,645 fans at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
The Miners (17-12, 10-7 C-USA) completed the season sweep of the Owls (15-14, 7-10), which was aided by holding the visitors to without a field goal for the final 7:28 of the game. The defensive effort helped UTEP close the contest on a 12-4 run to turn a 63-58 deficit with 6:12 to play into the three-point win. The four points for the visitors during that time came at the free throw line.
With the victory, UTEP has locked up its first winning season in league play since going 12-6 in 2016-17. Head coach Joe Golding is also assured of joining Don Haskins (18-6, 1961-62), Doc Sadler (27-8, 2004-05) and Tim Floyd (25-10, 2010-11) as the only coaches in program history to put together a winning record in their first year on the sidelines in the Sun City.
“This team has been through a bunch, and I’m really proud of them,” Golding said. “They just find a way. I’m glad we could get it done tonight at home. They came back and fought back. There’s no question the crowd helped us win the game tonight. If the crowd was not like it was with the energy, passion and the juice in here, we don’t win that basketball game.
“We held Rice below its (scoring) average,” Golding said. “You don’t win in March if you don’t defend.”
The Owls entered the game putting up 75.8 points per game, but UTEP dug in deep, particularly down the stretch to slow them down. The Miners actually trailed by as many as 11 (56-45, 12:01 2H) before rallying back for the win.
Souley Boum (12 points) joined Bieniemy and Kennedy in double figures for scoring. Alfred Hollins pitched in seven points off the bench while Tydus Verhoeven (six), Jamari Sibley (five) and Christian Agnew (five) also contributed offensively. Bieniemy became the first Miner with a double-double on points and assists since Boum did so against Sul Ross State on Dec. 5, 2020.
UTEP shot 53.7 percent from the floor, including 43.8 percent from 3-point range. Rice was led by Carl Pierre’s 30-point effort.
Rice jumped out to a 5-0 lead (17:21 1H) before the Miners struck back with a 13-0 run to vault ahead by eight (13-5, 13:44 1H). Kennedy had nine points during the sequence, including seven straight at one point that forced a Rice timeout.
After the Owls cut it to five (18-13), a 3-pointer from Sibley and a score down low by Verhoeven-off a feed from Sibley- afforded the Miners a double-digit advantage (23-13, 9:49 1H). The lead swelled to 12 (30-18, 7:31 1H) following a trey by Hollins.
The Owls answered with a 10-2 push to cut the margin to four (32-28, 4:42) and force Golding to call timeout. Agnew made an athletic lay-up off a turnover to halt the run. Rice, though, scored the final six points at the half to make it a tie game (34-34) through 20 minutes off action.
Rice opened up the second half on an 14-5 run to put the Miners down by nine (48-39) with 16:13 to play in regulation. The deficit grew to 11 (56-45) before five straight points courtesy of a Bieniemy triple and a lay-up by Kennedy made it a six-point game (56-50, 9:51 2H).
Rice was up by five (63-58, 6:12) but five straight points from Bieniemy, including a triple off a pass by Kennedy, tied the tilt with 4:18 to play and forced the Owls to call timeout. UTEP then regained the lead at 67-65 with a driving lay-up by Boum (1:58, 2H), but Rice made it a tie game with 58 seconds left after a pair of free throws.
Kennedy split a pair at the other end, immediately putting the Miners back up by one. Boum then drew a charge to put Rice in a position to foul with only 27 seconds remaining. A pair of Kennedy free throws extended the lead to three (70-67, 00:25). Rice misfired on a couple of shots to tie it as UTEP held on for the win.
The Miners will wrap up the regular season at home against North Texas with “Senior Day.” at 1 p.m. MT Saturday. Jon Teicher (41st year) and Steve Yellen(19th year) will be on the call on the free UTEP App.