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John Bohannon collected 24 points and 17 rebounds, both career highs, as UTEP inched closer to securing a first round bye in the Conference USA Tournament with a 63-53 victory over Houston on Wednesday at the Don Haskins Center.
Bohannon made 8-of-14 shots and 8-of-10 free throws while adding three assists, four blocks and two steals as UTEP (15-12, 8-5 C-USA) avenged a 79-61 loss at Houston (15-11, 4-9 C-USA) earlier this season.
This time around the Miners defended, holding the Cougars to 37.8 percent shooting, and rebounded, enjoying a 40-31 advantage on the glass. Cedrick Lang picked up his first career-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds while joining Bohannon in double figures in both categories.
“We got a great performance from our two big guys tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They really did a nice job of facilitating. We played through the low post probably more than we have. They caught it and kicked it when they needed to.
“We’ve always said that when big guys rebound, they score. John had his best game as a Miner. I hope he remembers how the next time we play. He kicked the ball an awful lot. He didn’t turn the ball over by doing too much and putting the ball on the floor. He got other guys good looks. We didn’t capitalize on a lot of those passes and kick outs that he had. But I’m really proud that we were able to win in a different way by shooting 35 percent.”
The Miners rode an 18-4 run to a 25-12 lead late in the first half. They were ahead 36-25 at the intermission. UTEP scored seven points in a span of nearly 14 minutes to start the second half, as Houston crept to within 43-41. With the lead just four (50-46) and four minutes on the clock, Bohannon and Lang accounted for five straight points that extended the lead to 55-46 and kept the Cougars at bay.
While Joseph Young scored 23 points to lead Houston, the Miners were able to keep TaShawn Thomas in check after he produced a 24-point, 11-rebound night at Hofheinz Pavilion two weeks ago. This time around Thomas was limited to six shot attempts while totaling nine points and eight boards.
“Cedrick guarded him for long stretches when he was out there and did a real nice job with help from his teammates, because we doubled him on catch,” Floyd said. “Every time he caught it, we had a double team coming from Bohannon or Chris Washburn. So we got it out of his hands and forced other guys to make plays.”
The Miners held their fourth straight opponent under 40 percent shooting as the Cougars made 17-of-45 attempts (37.8 percent). Floyd said defense will have to be the Miners’ calling card in the final weeks of the season as they continue to struggle manufacturing points.
“We have been real consistent [defensively] our last four games, even in defeat,” he said. “We’re going to have to hold onto this as our staple coming down the stretch and take it into the conference tournament, this defensive mindset and mentality to hold people to 38 percent and see if we can’t win games [that way].”
The defense was good enough that the Miners persevered on a night where they made 4-of-21 three pointers. The starting backcourt of Jacques Streeter and Konner Tucker was a combined 0-for-9 from the field, including 0-for-8 from beyond the arc.
“We’ve got to be able to get them to the rim more and get them in positions to get fouled more,” Floyd said. “I did like that Jacques was penetrating and kicking and he got Bo a lot of looks out of his penetrations. But we simply have to get those guys engaged more towards the basket.”
The Miners will return to action on Saturday at Rice, with tip-off set for noon MT.
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