EL PASO, Texas – A season-high (vs. DI opponents) five different players posted double-digit scoring efforts on the way to UTEP knocking off fourth-place Middle Tennessee, 77-65, in front of 4,044 fans on “Senior Day” at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
Fittingly senior Shamar Givance tied for the team lead with 14 points, with Calvin Solomon (14 points), Ze’Rik Onyema (13 points), Otis Frazier III (12 points) and Carlos Lemus (career-high 11 points) joining him in double figures to propel the Miners (14-17, 7-13 C-USA) to the win over the Blue Raiders (18-13, 11-9 C-USA). Tae Hardy (seven points) and Malik Zachery (six points) also pitched in offensively.
UTEP led for nearly 34 minutes of action, including being up by as many as 17 (58-41) in the second half, and exited the Don Haskins Center for the final time of the season to a standing ovation from the crowd. The Miners drilled 51.9 percent (27-52) from the floor, including going 8-15 (53.3 percent) on 3-pointers. The Orange and Blue also nailed a season-best 83.3 percent (15-18) from the charity stripe.
UTEP kept MT to 42.9 percent, including a chilly 31.8 percent from distance, while forcing it to commit 19 turnovers that resulted in 21 Miner points. The Blue Raiders entered the contest making just 13.5 turnovers per game but had problems with UTEP’s pressure.
The Miners recorded 11 steals, including three each by Solomon and Frazier III, to bring their season total to 283. That is five shy of matching the school standard (288, 2009-10).
UTEP was competitive on the boards (32-33), with Kevin Kalu, Hardy, and Givance all snagging five rebounds. The Miners shared the ball effectively with 15 assists on 27 made field goals. Givance set the tone in that department with a game-high seven helpers.
MT placed three players in double digits for scoring and was led by Elias King’s 13 points.
“I want to congratulate Shamar (Givance),” UTEP head coach Joe Golding said. “You always want to go out with a win on “Senior Day” so I’m really happy for him. He trusted us with his last year of college basketball. He’s been a warrior for us all year, and I’m just proud of him.
“I’m proud of all of our guys,” Golding said. “They deserved to win a game, and we were able to get one today against a really good team to finish out the regular season. I thought our crowd was terrific for a noon start, and it was great for them to give (our team) a standing ovation at the end. We have the best fans. They care about UTEP basketball. I’m really, really fortunate to be the head coach.”
The two sides traded scores early on, with it knotted at six four minutes into the game. Following consecutive buckets by the visitors to put UTEP down 10-6, the Orange and Blue ripped off seven straight points in the span of 1:13 to surge ahead and force a MT timeout.
UTEP harassed the Blue Raiders into making three turnovers in the surge. Lemus started the run by knocking down a trey off the feed from Givance. Frazier III then came up with a steal and went coast-to-coast for the lay-up. Onyema capped the surge by sinking a shot down low to afford UTEP the 13-10 advantage (13:16 1H).
MT managed an offensive rebound and putback on a driving lay-up to halt the sequence, but the Miners immediately stretched the lead to four after a corner triple by Zachery. After another MT turnover, Onyema slammed home a dunk. Givance then buried a 3-pointer to conclude another 7-0 run, with UTEP suddenly leading by nine (21-12). The Blue Raiders struck back in the form of a 10-5 push to cut the Miner margin down to four (26-22, 7:14 1H).
It remained a four-point tilt (32-28, 3:58 1H) as the half wound down, but UTEP extended it to seven (39-32) heading into the locker room. The Miners took advantage of MT misfiring on its final seven free throws of the stanza, in addition to Givance draining their sixth triple of the half.
The Orange and Blue initiated the second half on an 15-7 sequence to move the margin to double digits (54-39, 15:33). Five different Miners scored during the stretch, with consecutive baskets by Givance capping the surge. UTEP then inched it to a 17-point cushion following an offensive board and putback by Frazier III, prompting another MT timeout.
The Blue Raiders responded out of the stoppage with a 6-0 run to get within 11 before Lemus knocked down his third triple of the day. Frazier III followed with an old-fashioned 3-point play to match the 6-0 run from MT and reinstate a 17-point cushion (64-47, 7:56 2H).
MT blitzed back with seven consecutive points to get within 10 before Solomon ended it by knocking down a pair of free throws. The Blue Raiders answered immediately with a 3-pointer, and it was a 10-point UTEP lead (67-57) heading to the final media timeout.
The differential was still 10 (70-60) before the Orange and Blue ripped off five in a row. Hardy started it with an And-1 and then fed Onyema on a fastbreak for a powerful slam to bring the crowd to its feet. MT couldn’t get closer than 10 the rest of the way.
UTEP will open play at the 2023 Conference USA Championships at The Star in Frisco, Texas, on March 8. The Miners’ seed and opponent remain to be determined.