EL PASO, Texas – UTEP drained 10 3-pointers (most vs. DI opponent this year) and Calvin Solomon (season-high 16 points, seven boards), Tae Hardy (16 points), and Shamar Givance (15 points, five assists) all had quality nights, but the Miners couldn’t come up with enough stops in a 73-68 setback against WKU at the Don Haskins Center Thursday.
The Miners (13-17, 6-13 C-USA) overcame a nine-point, first-half deficit to pull ahead in the second stanza, but the Hilltoppers (16-14, 8-11) kept their composure to come away with win. It marked the 800th contest all time in the Don Haskins Center.
UTEP finished the game 10-20 from distance, including 7-11 in the second half to help fuel the rally attempt, but WKU nailed 59.2 percent (29-49) from the floor overall to hold on. The Orange and Blue forced 17 turnovers that led to 13 points, but the visitors compensated by harassing the Miners into 19 miscues that resulted in 20 points.
WKU also had a 36-18 advantage in the paint, thanks to the efforts of 7-5 Jamarion Sharp defensively (six blocks) and Dayvion McKnight’s game-high 24 points. UTEP tried to make up for that with 10 offensive rebounds that resulted in 11 second-chance points, but it wasn’t to be.
“I thought we were always chasing,” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “Give them credit, we’d get right there and then they’d hit a big shot. We were chasing there the whole second half and just couldn’t quite get over the hump.
“Obviously, our identity is on the defensive end of the floor but we’re running out some bodies and juice,” Golding said. “You’ve got to give them credit to come in here and shoot 59 percent, but obviously we’ve got some work to do on that end of the floor.
Solomon won the tip against the 7-5 Sharp, and UTEP took the early 3-0 lead after Givance splashed home a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. WKU then tallied four straight points to secure its first advantage before the Orange and Blue pulled back ahead with back-to-back baskets, including an alley-oop from Givance to Ze’Rik Onyema. The Toppers countered with an 11-2 push to secure a 15-9 edge (9:15 1H).
It remained a six-point affair (17-11) when UTEP got things going with a 6-0 run to pull even at 17. Solomon started it with a jumper. After a stop, Hardy buried a jumper. Givance then picked the pocket of a WKU player and went coast-to-coast for the score to tie the tilt. The Toppers stopped the sequence with a dunk before UTEP pulled back into the lead with a 3-pointer by Hardy to make it 20-19 (5:37 1H).
WKU countered with six consecutive points on the way to securing a 25-20 cushion (3:33 1H). The Miners would go into the locker room down by seven (34-27), with Givance nailing a buzzer beater to halt a late surge by the visitors.
UTEP scored six of the first eight of the second half behind triples from Hardy and Givance to make it a one-possession game (36-33, 18:15 2H). After WKU nudged it back out to six (43-37), the Orange and Blue ripped off seven consecutive points on the way to securing a one-point differential. Onyema initiated it by going 1-2 at the charity stripe before consecutive triples from Givance and Hardy, respectively.
The visitors notched the next four points to leap back ahead, and it was back-and-forth over the next several minutes. UTEP trailed by two (55-53, 8:16) when a potential tying shot by Onyema was blocked by Sharp. After WKU stretched it back to five, Frazier III buried a corner trey to cut the deficit to two (60-58, 4:26 2H).
WKU used back-to-back scores to propel the differential back to six (64-58) before a Hardy lay-up and a dunk by Solomon brought the Orange and Blue back within two (64-62). The Toppers drilled a triple late in the shot clock on the ensuing possession, but UTEP got it to a one-possession tilt with a driving lay-up courtesy of Frazier III.
Much to the chagrin of the Miner faithful, WKU converted at the other end to reinstate a five-point lead and essentially ice the tilt.
UTEP wraps up the regular season by challenging Middle Tennessee at 12 p.m. MT Saturday on “Senior Day,” at the Don Haskins Center. Jon Teicher (42nd year) and Steve Yellen (20th year) will be on the call on “The Home of UTEP Basketball” 600 ESPN El Paso. It will also stream on ESPN+ with Erik Elken and former Miner Hooper Vint describing the action. To purchase tickets, visit www.UTEPMiners.com/Tickets or call (915) 747-UTEP. Prices start as low as $9.15