UTEP build a 14-point halftime lead behind the hot shooting of Jacques Streeter, then answered every SMU challenge in the second half on its way to a 63-54 victory over the Mustangs on Saturday afternoon at the Haskins Center.
Streeter was on fire in the first 20 minutes, knocking down all five of his three-point attempts and scoring 17 points. He didn’t take a shot in the second half, but went to the line twice and finished with 18 points, his high total in a UTEP uniform.
The Miners (10-7, 3-1 C-USA) picked up a much-needed Conference USA home win while beating SMU (11-9, 1-4 C-USA) for the 10th straight time in El Paso. UTEP has won 18 of the last 20 games between the state rivals.
UTEP took a pair of 17-point leads in the second half, the last at 45-28 with 14:12 remaining on Cedrick Lang’s layup. SMU whittled the margin down to nine (55-46) with 4:22 to go, but the Miners did enough down the stretch to hang on.
“It wasn’t a very pretty second half. A lot of stoppage in play, a lot of turnovers, a lot of free throws attempted, and not a whole lot of flow to the game,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We tried to speed them up a little bit with some full court pressure in the first half and did a decent job putting 35 points on the board. But we really labored in the second half, much like we did at Tulsa [on Wednesday].”
The Miners shot 54.5 percent in the first half, including 70 percent (7-for-10) from three-point territory, in mounting the 35-21 lead. They scored the final seven points of the period.
Konner Tucker scored 12 points, Cedrick Lang nine and Chris Washburn eight for the Miners. Tucker’s streak of consecutive free throws made ended at 27 – the longest streak by a UTEP player since Brandon Wolfram made 34 in a row over a decade ago.
The Miners were outscored 26-12 in the paint, but shot 13 more free throws (33-20) and enjoyed a 12-2 lead in bench points.
Shawn Williams had 16 points and seven rebounds to lead the Mustangs. Jalen Jones scored 15 points and Nick Russell added 12.
“The key to our victory was our backcourt, Jacques Streeter and Konner Tucker,” Floyd said. “Those guys made shots for us, they took care of the ball and they allowed us to play the pace that we wanted. They did a nice job at the 10-second line with their defense. It was really great to see Jacques knock down those threes.”
Floyd was also pleased with Washburn’s 14 minutes off the bench, which included four rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal.
“I think the last two games are the best he’s played in five weeks,” he said. “He’s still eight to 10, maybe 15 pounds above where we would like him to be. I think the kid’s really going to be explosive when he’s playing at the right body weight. As he gets more minutes, I think he can really help us.”
The Miners shot 47.2 percent from the field and forced 20 Mustang turnovers, but were outrebounded for just the third time in eight games, 28-26.
“Cedrick Lang [six boards] rebounded the ball well for us tonight. That was a real key,” Floyd said. “Other than that, we didn’t really like our turnovers or the offensive play of our threes, fours and fives. It can be better.”
UTEP will take a couple more cracks at conference road wins at East Carolina next Saturday (5 p.m. MT) and at UAB on Wednesday, Jan. 30 (6 p.m. MT). The Miners will then play three straight home games versus Tulane on Feb. 2, Rice on Feb. 6 and Tulsa on Feb. 9.