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El Paso, TX — Mike Thorne Jr. had a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Charlotte dominated UTEP on the boards on the way to a 73-68 win over the Miners Thursday night.
UTEP (10-6) had its five-game winning streak snapped while dropping its Conference USA opener for only the second time in nine years. Two staples during the winning streak – defense and rebounding – deserted the Miners on Thursday night. Charlotte (10-4) controlled the glass 41-27, had a 14-6 edge in second chance points and shot 48.1 percent from the field.
“We didn’t defend well enough to win,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought they crushed us on the offensive boards late. It seemed like we’d get a stop and Thorne or [Willie] Clayton would go back, get off the board and they’d get a score or a foul which is very disheartening.”
The high point from the Miners’ perspective came early in the first half when they went on a 15-5 run to take a 22-15 lead, their largest of the night. But Charlotte outscored UTEP 19-7 over the final 10 minutes to go ahead 34-29 at the intermission.
The Miners pulled within a point (34-33) on a jumper by Julian Washburn in the opening minute of the second period. The 49ers scored the next seven points to take an eight-point lead (41-33).
The closest UTEP could get was three points (48-45) on a three pointer by Washburn with 11:59 to go. Charlotte answered with a layup by Pierria Henry 18 seconds later. It was that kind of a night for the Miners, who repeatedly traded baskets with the 49ers and couldn’t get stops when they needed to.
After UTEP closed the gap to four points (70-66) on a steal and layup by Julian Washburn with 31 seconds left, Charlotte once again capitalized with a high percentage shot. Terrence Williams’ dunk with 16 seconds remaining put the game out of reach.
Thorne shot 8-for-13 from the field and Clayton, who added 10 points and six rebounds, made 4-of-7 shots.
“We allowed too many deep post catches and just ducking in, catching it deep and going over the top of us,” Floyd said. “I thought it was about post play more than guard play tonight. I thought it would be about guard play. They did a better job than us on the boards. I thought their big guys affected us offensively more than we affected them.”
The Miners had only eight turnovers – enough to win with. They scored 68 points – enough to win with. But outside of their rebounding and defensive troubles, they had a rough night from three-point range (6-for-24) as C.J. Cooper finished 2-for-11 from beyond the arc.
“They went zone on us for 25 minutes of the ballgame. We really struggled [from the three-point line],” Floyd said. “We knew that might be a problem and we knew that fullcourt pressure might be a problem. It turned out that the zone really was an issue for us tonight. We’ve got to get better at it and we’ll work at it.”
John Bohannon (23 points) and Washburn (19) combined for 42 of the Miners’ points. Bohannon had eight rebounds; no other UTEP player had more than four. Vince Hunter fouled out for the eighth time in 16 games after playing 14 minutes. Cooper shot 2-for-13 from the field.
“C.J. is struggling a little bit from the field right now. Looking back, if he makes two or three we’ve got a little different ballgame,” Floyd said. “He got it going last year and certainly he’ll pop out of it at some point and make some shots for us. He might be accepting too many threes. Some penetration and some dumps might be the remedy for us right now. But guys have to do what they’re capable of doing, and right now that’s not a real strength of our team.”
As for Hunter, Floyd said “[Foul trouble is] something he’s going to have to grow out of. I want him to get better. That’s poise. He’s got to understand who he is and learn to play early in the possession. He’s got to learn to stay in a stance and that will get him to where he needs to be and out of foul trouble. But he can’t play erect and recover and try to go play.”
It was a disappointing, but not discouraging, performance in the C-USA opener. The Miners, following the loss of three scholarship guards earlier this week, knew they faced a tough challenge in Charlotte, which had beaten two top-25 teams (Kansas State and Michigan) in non-league play. They showed that they could hang with the 49ers even when their defense and rebounding weren’t up to par.
“We played hard. We played relatively smart,” Floyd said. “We only had eight turnovers. We can’t turn it over much and survive. We’re not the best shooters in the west right now. That’s obvious. And we’ve got to understand where the ball needs to go and when until C.J. can get out of it a little bit.”
The Miners will conclude a six-game homestand on Saturday against Marshall at 7:05 p.m. The Herd fell at UTSA, 90-81, on Thursday.
“The crowd was fabulous [tonight],” Floyd said. “Absolutely great. They really tried to will us to a win. We’re going to need them again on Saturday. Our kids are trying. We had two walk ons out there for 15 of the last 20 minutes of that ballgame with Victor [Mbachu] and Tevin [Caldwell]. I think they did an admirable job given the situation.”
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