UTEP scored the first eight points of the second half to break open a close game, and shot 64 percent over the last 20 minutes in a 73-58 rout of UCF on Saturday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners (14-10, 7-4 C-USA) fell behind 11-2 in the first six and a half minutes, rallied to take a 31-28 lead at the half, then dominated the Knights (17-8, 7-4 C-USA) at both ends in the final period.
UTEP, which snapped a two-game losing streak, tied UCF for third place in the C-USA standings with five league games remaining.
The Miners held the Knights to 32.3 percent shooting, and kept them out of the lane (22 second-chance points after allowing 70 in the previous two games combined) while forcing them into taking 28 three-point shots. UCF finished 6-for-28 from beyond the arc.
“We did a much better job defensively at home than we did on the road, which is really bothersome to me that we had to come home to play that hard and that good on the defensive end,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Coach [Phil] Johnson had the complete game plan and knew what he wanted to do with it. We loaded up the lane and didn’t let them get in the lane for drives and [Keith] Clanton’s post ups.”
Clanton, the preseason C-USA Player of the Year, entered the game averaging 15.8 points. He was ineffective offensively, shooting 1-for-10 from the floor while collecting four points.
“I don’t know when he got his first field goal, but it was really late in the game,” Floyd said. “We did a really nice job defending him with three different individuals, but we also got great help defense from our other guys.”
The Miners also neutralized UCF’s Isaiah Sykes, the team leader in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals for C-USA games. He finished with 10 points and six boards, both below his season averages.
The Knights weren’t able to get their running game going, scoring five fast break points. UCF’s 58 points were 13.5 under its season average coming in.
“We got back in defensive transition, which we didn’t do over at Houston,” Floyd said. “We got a nice floor game from Jacques [Streeter] and Konner [Tucker], which we really didn’t have at Houston. I thought they played really well and with more confidence. Sykes had 24 [points] and 12 [rebounds] on us a year ago at their place. His numbers aren’t the same tonight. We got a good job out of Julian [Washburn] on the defensive end.”
After the slow start, the Miners caught fire in the first half behind Tucker, who scored 10 of his 15 points before halftime.
“We just started making some better plays,” Floyd said. “We had Konner throw in a couple of shots. Konner got fouled on a three pointer. It was kind of a big play. We were down 16-13 and he made all three [free throws] and we kind of got our heads up, which you need to do when you’ve lost three out of four. He made a big three towards the end of a clock. Shot making sometimes makes you feel like guarding harder on the other end, and we were able to get some stops, which always helps.”
The 8-0 run to start the second half extended UTEP’s lead from 31-28 to 39-28. Later, the Miners had a 16-4 spurt, transforming a seven-point cushion (41-34) into a 57-38 bulge.
Floyd said he couldn’t recall his team taking a bad shot in its red-hot second half offensive performance.
“I saw much better ball movement,” he said. “I thought Jacques did a great job of getting it where we wanted to get it. C.J. [Cooper] played with more confidence here than he did at Houston. He took care of the ball. We got the ball in the lane quite a bit and took good shots down deep. We were able to play in the open floor and go get baskets in transition, which always helps.”
John Bohannon led UTEP with 16 points. Tucker had 15 and Washburn 10. Five other Miners scored between five and nine points.
The Miners will play back-to-back road games this week at second-place Southern Miss Wednesday (6 p.m. MT) and I-10 rival NM State Saturday (7 p.m. MT).